Toyota Exec Says Recall Fixes Might Not End Sudden Acceleration Problems

Toyota’s top American sales executive told a congressional panel yesterday that fixing floor mats and sticking pedals on millions of recalled vehicles might “not totally” fix problems with dangerous unintended acceleration. James E. Lentz, the president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A, said the automaker still hasn’t ruled out electronics as a potential cause of sudden acceleration.

Since September, Toyota has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide for issues involving unintended acceleration. As we’ve reported previously, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has now received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration with Toyota and Lexus vehicles that involve 34 deaths and hundreds of accidents since 2000.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lentz spent over two hours testifying before the House Energy and Commerce Committee yesterday. The hearing was the first of three congressional hearings called to investigate how Toyota and federal safety officials handled the sudden acceleration problem.

Up until now, Toyota has denied that electronics played role in the sudden acceleration issues. But Lentz testified yesterday that the floor mat and accelerator fix would only “solve the problems that we know of.” According to Los Angeles Times, Lentz said his company was awaiting results of two studies of electronics in Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

According to The New York Times, Lentz faced criticism from House energy committee chairman, Henry A. Waxman. “We need to be sure that you’re doing a full and adequate analysis of something you’ve denied, but that other witnesses have shown us is very possible,” Waxman said.

Transportation secretary Ray LaHood also testified before the committee. According to The New York Times, he faced critical questions about past decisions by the NHTSA not to vigorously pursue company recalls. LaHood “sidestepped” questions about whether his predecessors had been lax, and promised to investigate complaints that the computerized electronic systems were involved in Toyota sudden acceleration incidents, the Times said. However, LaHood maintained that faulty floor mats and accelerator pedals posed the most serious danger. Still he stopped short of saying that the recent recalls would solve the entire acceleration problem in Toyota cars.

In addition to Lentz, the committee also heard from Rhonda Smith, a Lexus owner whose car was involved in a sudden acceleration incident in October 2006. According to The New York Times, Smith told lawmakers how her sedan sped out of control at 100 miles an hour, and she “furiously pushed buttons, shifted gears, and slammed on the brakes as she tried to stop the vehicle,” until she was finally able to do so six miles later. Smith testified that she felt Toyota’s response to her complaints had been a “farce.”

Toyota’s Chief Executive, Akio Toyoda, scheduled to appear is scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform tomorrow.

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