House panel to probe Toyota recalls over sudden acceleration

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing Feb. 25 to investigate Toyota’s massive recalls related to vehicles that can accelerate out of control.

The subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, chaired by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), on Thursday issued exhaustive data requests to both Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Citing “persistent consumer complaints of sudden unintended acceleration,” the committee made the request in a letter to Yoshimi Inaba, the president of Toyota Motor North America Inc., and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

The probe began earlier this week after Toyota said it would stop production and sales of eight of its most popular vehicles, including the Camry and Corolla, while it developed a remedy for a sticking accelerator-pedal system that can cause unintended acceleration.

“I am concerned by the seriousness and scope of Toyota’s recent recall announcements,” said Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.). “Our hearing will help us better understand how quickly and effectively Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded to consumer complaints about the safety of the recalled Toyota vehicles.”

In an interview, Stupak said that he remained uncertain whether Toyota’s assessment of the problem was adequate. In the letters to Toyota and NHTSA, Stupak asked for a comprehensive timeline of what the two organizations knew about sudden-acceleration problems and when they knew it.

The panel wants an analysis of NHTSA’s early-warning system, a statistical forecasting tool that was put in place over the last decade to signal the very kinds of problems that Toyota vehicles have experienced. That system apparently failed to flag the problem.

The letter also asks for data on every complaint, petition, report and technical analysis that might be relevant to Toyota sudden-acceleration events.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s recall for sticky accelerator pedals expanded worldwide today, with the Japanese automaker saying it would pull vehicles from Europe and China.

An unspecified number of models and vehicles will be affected in Europe, but production will not be halted there because changes had already been adopted in newly made cars, the automaker said.

In China, the government’s product-safety group said on its website that the recall will include more than 75,000 RAV4 sport utility vehicles built between March 19, 2009, and Jan. 25. Toyota has about a 7% market share in China, where the RAV4 was second only to Honda’s CR-V in SUV sales as of November.

On Tuesday, Toyota issued an unprecedented stop-sale and halted production on eight of its most popular models: 2009 and 2010 RAV4, 2009 and 2010 Corolla, 2009 and 2010 Matrix, 2005 to 2010 Avalon, 2010 Highlander, 2007 to 2010 Tundra and 2008 to 2010 Sequoia.

The company then said on Wednesday that it had added 1.1 million vehicles to a recall announced in the fall relating to floor mats that can jam accelerator pedals.


Staff writer Ken Bensinger contributed to this report.