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Transportation chief: Recalled Toyotas not safe

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Transportation chief: Recalled Toyotas not safe



The Free Press is live blogging today's U.S. House Oversight hearing into Toyota's recalls that features Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda among others.

Are GM, Toyota being handled differently?

1:10 p.m. | The Obama administration’s 60% stake in General Motors became a part of the Toyota hearing today.

Several Republicans questioned whether NHTSA and the administration were being fair with the automaker given its financial interest in GM.

“This recall is likely to cost Toyota untold billions of dollars,” said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. “I don’t think it’s out of line to question, or at least caution, that the Department of Transportation and NHTSA be extremely careful with how they accept and deal with complaints that come in to assure that government isn’t taking sides in an area where it has a big investment.”

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, asked U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: “Do you honestly believe Toyota is being held to exactly the same standard as General Motors and everybody else?”

“Absolutely, 100%,” LaHood said.

Chaffetz also asked whether the UAW had been in contact with NHTSA.

“Absolutely not,” said LaHood.

Chaffetz and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., compared NHTSA’s handing of Toyota’s recalls to a defect probe involving Chevrolet Cobalts that had generated several hundred complaints.

“Are we doing this investigation and this slow road because General Motors is not willing to do what Toyota is…Wouldn’t it save us money if General Motors would do what Toyota did?"

“Our job is to do investigations,” LaHood said. “If we get cooperation, we get it. If we can’t, we use every tool in our toolbox.”

LaHood: Defective Toyotas should be taken to dealers

11:59 a.m. | U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says recalled Toyotas "are not safe."

Earlier this month, in a different congressional hearing, LaHood said that owners of recalled Toyotas should stop driving their vehicles until they are fixed.

Given that the recalls of 5.6 million models for sudden acceleration may take months to complete, the words set off a furor. Within an hour, LaHood pulled back, saying owners should call their dealers.

Today, in response to a question from Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., LaHood said the defective Toyotas listed on the NHTSA Web site need "to go back to the dealer to be fixed. We’ve determined those are not safe."

LaHood said while the recalls involved floor mats and sticking pedals, NHTSA was looking at electronic controls, and told Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, that the agency had the technical skills needed to analyze the problem.

Criticism includes NHTSA

11:32 a.m. | At the start of the hearing, the Democratic chairman and Republican ranking member of the House Oversight committee sound off from the same script.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., addressed the way Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration flubbed worries of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

“The way these complaints were handled indicates problems at both NHTSA and Toyota,” he said.

Towns criticized Toyota not just for being slow to tackle sudden acceleration but other problems, such as a defect in the braking software of 2010 Prius models that the company fixed in production before revealing to regulators.

“If the spotlight had not already been shining brightly on Toyota, would the public have ever been told?” Towns asked.

He also noted that there are 39 deaths attributed to sudden acceleration in the government’s database, compared with 27 attributed to the Ford Pinto defects of the 1970s.

“In short, if the Camry and the Prius were airplanes, they would be grounded,” Towns said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., compared the Toyota situation with other high-profile recalls of the past, including the Tylenol recall of 1982. He said those companies were able to learn from their mistakes and prosper as great companies.

“We will be asking Akio Toyoda whether they were a good company or a great company,” Issa said.

Issa was also critical of NHTSA for not having readily accessible data about recalls and issues in other countries.

“How could NHTSA, in this modern age when I can Google Secretary LaHood and find his picture from all over the world – how is it that NHTSA does not formally have a system to know about every report?” Issa asked. “NHTSA is not prepared to proactively act.”

Ray LaHood testifies now.

Witness list changes

10:43 a.m. | Even before the hearing begins, the lineup for the hearing changes at the last minute as the Obama administration withdraws National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland from the witness list.

The administration told the committee that only Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood would be testifying for the agency. The committee had set out a name plate for Strickland at the hearing table before taking it back.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Strickland's absence would likely require another hearing to delve into more technical information about NHTSA's practices.

LaHood will speak first, followed by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and Toyota's U.S. chief Yoshimi Inaba. The third panel will include Fe Lastrella, the mother of two of the Santee, Calif., crash victims and grandmother of a third. It will also feature Kevin Haggerty, a New Jersey man who was able to drive his 2007 Toyota Avalon to a dealership while it was having sudden acceleration. The dealership repaired the vehicle, but Toyota has said little about the case.

Haggerty has since taken the offer of a local dealer to swap the '07 Avalon for a new 2010 Hyundai Sonata.



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