Regulators spoke with almost 100 customers who said they experienced bursts of speed after dealer repairs under Toyota’s record recalls this year, Strickland, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told Congress. The agency has seen nothing from the recent inspections “that gives us the basis for opening a new defect investigation,” he said.
His comments were the first that show Toyota’s recalls of about 8 million vehicles worldwide, including the Camry sedan and Prius hybrid, may be effective through reshaping and replacing gas pedals. Strickland’s testimony to the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigations panel wasn’t enough to assuage lawmakers who faulted Toyota for doing too little to determine the root cause of the unintended acceleration.
“There is no evidence that Toyota has conducted extensive or rigorous testing,” Representative Henry Waxman, the California Democrat who is chairman of the full committee, said.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, has asserted that an electronic flaw isn’t the cause, citing test results from engineering and research firm Exponent Inc., Waxman said. The firm was hired for services related to defense of class-action suits against the Toyota City, Japan-based automaker, he said.
“The public has a right to expect that Toyota will do everything possible to find any potential electronic defects,” Waxman said. “Instead, Toyota asked its defense counsel to hire a firm whose mission appears to be the exact opposite: to obfuscate and to find no problems.”
Representative Bart Stupak, the Michigan Democrat who chaired the hearing on Toyota recalls today in Washington, said “the record doesn’t support Toyota’s statements that it conducted extensive testing.”
James Lentz, president of Toyota’s U.S. sales unit, told lawmakers that Exponent no longer reports to company lawyers, and an outside panel led by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater will help ensure Exponent’s work is independent.
Dealers have completed repairs of 3.5 million vehicles, including 1.67 million for sticking accelerator pedals and 1.62 million for potential pedal entrapment by floor mats, Lentz said.
Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, said, “I don’t believe this is a sticky pedal, floor mat problem.”
Strickland said his agency’s effort to review the electronic throttle-control system is “well under way” with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The agencies are seeking to complete the review by Aug. 31, he said.
A panel chosen by the National Academy of Sciences will do a separate review of electronics starting in July and complete its work 15 months later, Strickland said.
The auto-safety agency will also keep reviewing vehicles in which owners say pedal repairs have not fixed the acceleration defect, Strickland said. “We will go wherever the evidence leads us,” he said.
Toyota is “confident that our electronic throttle-control system is not a cause of unintended acceleration,” Lentz said.