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What did Toyota know and when did it know it?

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What did Toyota know and when did it know it?

Yahoo! Canada Autos - Liz Metcalfe

Who knew what when? That seemed to be the primary focus of questions a congressional committee fired Wednesday at Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda.

Toyoda, using a translator, and Toyota Motors USA President Yoshimi Inaba testified before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which is investigating the recall of 8 million vehicles worldwide. Most of the congressional representatives prefaced their questions by politely thanking the pair for appearing. But after Toyoda finished reading his prepared remarks, they did not pull punches when they asked how long the carmaker had known about the problems.

"For years there have been complaints pouring into your company about sudden acceleration ... when did you discover the problem and why did it take a year to bring this to the attention of regulators? And even more time to tell the public about the problem?" asked Illionis Reprentative (D) Danny Davis.

Toyoda replied that he understood there was a perception that his company's response had not been quick enough, and that he would make sure going forward that Toyota would "establish a framework" and work diligently on faster responses to complaints.

"You knew about this a year before telling the regulators - do you think that was perhaps a lengthy wait of time?" Davis fired back.

Toyoda, who had said he found out about it only in January, looked to Inaba to answer Davis's question.

"Yes, we knew (about) that problem a year ago in Europe and this was not properly shared here," Inuba said. "So we need to do a better job of sharing. The first information we got in Europe was for much smaller cars than those sold here. So there was a lack of sensitivity," he acknowledged. "But no deliberate delay."

Illionois Representative ® Brian Bilbray was the first to tackle what was clearly another key concern – that the sudden acceleration problem is electronic, not mechanical. Tuesday, SIU Automotive Technology Professor David Gilbert testified that his research suggests a short circuit can cause the sudden acceleration being reported, and built-in fail-safeguards don’t catch the problem.

James Lentz, president and COO of Toyota's United States operations, told the committee Tuesday that Toyota engineers were unable to replicate Gilbert's results, and that he was confident there are no problems with the electric throttle control system (ETCS).

"You stated that you were 100 percent sure that the difficulties with the pedals with the acceleration was not electronic, that it was not going to be involved with the data systems, that it's a physical problem?," Bilbray asked Inaba Wednesday. "Is that what you said?"

"My confidence level about ETCS – since I have a trust in our engineers, even though it has not been extensively tested by outsiders – my personal confidence level is 100 percent," Inaba said.

Bilbray's next question directed attention back to how long it took the auto manufacturer let consumers know about the problem.

"Consumer and market opinion will demand a very high price from Toyota for these mistakes," Bilbray said. "Should the government require carmakers – including Toyota – to report all instance of malfunctions, no matter where in the world they occur, not just here in the United States?"

"What is the position of Mr. Toyoda? We like to see you extend full cooperation," Bilbray said.

Toyoda's response was that the company would "address inadequacies going forward" and "try to bring those as close as possible to zero."

"I'll take that as a yes?" Bilbray said.

"Yes," Toyoda replied.

When another representative again raised again the tests done by Professor Gilbert that indicated the sudden acceleration could be an electronic problem, Inaba offered to meet with Gilbert to go over his findings.

"We will be glad to meet with him and have him meet with our engineers and get him to explain his method. It’s Toyota’s understanding that Gilbert cut into circuitry "and manipulated the system in a way that is very unrealistic," Inaba said.

Ohio Representative (D) Marcy Kaptur was curt as she told the Toyota executives that she was not satisfied with their testimony, as she did not think it "reflects sufficient remorse" for those who died when their vehicles suddenly accelerated out of control. She cited the testimony on Tuesday of a woman who said she thought she was going to die because she couldn’t stop her car despite almost standing on the brakes.

"To those people who lost their lives or were injured in traffic accidents - I express my sincerest condolences to them from the bottom of my heart," Toyoda said, and promised to champion changes in the company to prevent defects from costing any more lives.

"I believe I'm the only person who can display the leadership that will transform Toyota," he said.

Earlier, Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, had said he was committed to restoring Toyota's reputation for safety.

"For me, when the cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well," Toyoda said. "I, more than anyone, wish for Toyota's cars to be safe, and for our customers to feel safe when they use our vehicles."

Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns ended the hearing by thanking the Toyota executives for appearing before the committee voluntarily, and that he considers their appearance a sign of their commitment to address problems.



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