Toyota Misled the Public, Federal Panel Says

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Washington DCDemocrats sitting on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have said that Toyota too quickly dismissed the idea that computer issues are at the heart of Toyota's troubles with defective vehicles and recalls. The House panel concluded that the car manufacturer relied on data from a flawed engineering study, the New York Times reports.

"Our preliminary assessment is that Toyota resisted the possibility that electronic defects could cause safety concerns, relied on a flawed engineering report and made misleading public statements concerning the adequacy of recent recalls to address the risk of sudden unintended acceleration," the representatives said, according to the Times.

The news comes on the eve of the first of three scheduled hearings by the Committee on the Toyota recalls, and on the heels of Toyota's disclosure that it saved more that $100 million by successfully negotiating a limited recall of its popular 2007 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES models—information revealed in an earlier confidential presentation in which Toyota cited its regulatory and legislative successes. It was also included in the tens of thousands of pages of documentation subpoenaed by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

The document also reportedly states that Toyota had "negotiated an equipment recall" without finding of a defect. Rather than being required to fix the cars, Toyota recalled 55,000 all-weather floor mats, which were sold as optional pieces, and which it said could become stuck under the accelerator pedal.

NHTSA also at fault

The Committee members are also not happy with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and its handling of the recalls. The representatives reportedly stated in a separate letter to Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary, that they were concerned about the competency of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in assessing Toyota's problems.

"It appears that NHTSA lacks the expertise needed to evaluate defects in vehicle electronic controls, and its response to complaints of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles appears to have been seriously deficient," the letter said.

Additional documents show that the while NHTSA had considered a wider investigation of sudden acceleration problems in 2007, following Toyota's recall of the 55,000 Camry and ES 350 models, Toyota questioned the validity of such an action. Yet in October 2007, the agency decided not to follow through.

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