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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Toyota accused of withholding info in acceleration probe

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Toyota accused of withholding info in acceleration probe

By Jayne O'Donnell, USA TODAY

Toyota withheld information about safety technology on older models, and its outside research firm altered documents requested in a probe of unintended acceleration, congressional investigators charged Tuesday.

Democratic leaders of the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent a letter to Toyota President James Lentz asking him to get the company's research firm, Exponent, to cooperate with the committee and to spell out which Toyota models already have brake override systems.

These systems can slow vehicles down when brakes are pressed at the same time a gas pedal is engaged and may prevent unintended acceleration.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., said outside technical experts told the panel the 2005 Toyota Camry and some older Toyotas may have brake override technology that's activated when a computer diagnostic trouble code is detected. But they charge that Toyota, which has said it will put brake overrides on new models and some older ones to improve "driver confidence," never told the committee it had the technology on some existing models.

In a statement, Toyota said it will "continue to cooperate with the congressional committee in response to their ongoing requests."

The letter also charged that Exponent, hired by Toyota for research on its problems, altered the "living document" that continuously charts the progress of its unintended-acceleration investigation and asked Lentz to submit previous versions.

Exponent disagrees "with the committee's characterization" and has "been fully responsive," says Angela Meyer, client services vice president.

Documents released at an Energy and Commerce hearing last month showed that Toyota's outside lawyers — not Toyota — had retained Exponent. Toyota had said it hired Exponent to get to the bottom of its unintended-acceleration problems, but the documents showed that the law firm was paying Exponent to help it defend Toyota in litigation. Exponent now reports directly to Toyota.

"It's critical that Toyota and Exponent are honest and transparent about their internal findings and their relationship," said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who also sent a letter Tuesday to Lentz asking for more information about Toyota and Exponent.

link:

http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2010-06-30-toyota30_ST_N.htm

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