Toyota Warned in 2006 That Safety Was at Risk

In 2006, some Toyota workers were concerned that the automaker’s efforts to ramp up production to meet booming U.S. demand was being done at the expense of safety. According to The Los Angeles Times, the workers put their concerns in a memo even though they feared it would hurt their careers.

Anyone who reads this blog is well-acquainted with Toyota’s recent safety problems. The automaker has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide over the past several months for issues involving unintended acceleration and faulty brakes. The recalls have seriously injured Toyota’s long-standing reputation for quality and reliability.

The recalls started in September, when Toyota announced it was recalling and replacing floor mats on approximately 4.2 million vehicles which were allegedly causing accelerator pedals in the vehicles to become stuck in the depressed position, leading to uncontrollable and rapid acceleration of the vehicle. On January 21, Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles due to accelerator pedals on those vehicles becoming stuck in a depressed position, causing unexpected and unsafe acceleration. Then in February, Toyota recalled more than 400,000 hybrid vehicles, including the 2010 Prius and the Lexus HS250h, to fix their brakes.

According to the Los Angeles Times, six Toyota veterans – all union workers – had seen it coming, after watching the company take what they believed were dangerous safety and manpower shortcuts to lower costs and boost production. In their 2006 memo, they pointed out that Toyota had recalled more than 5 million cars — 36 percent of all sold vehicles, a rate higher than other companies. The memo warned that failure to act could “become a great problem that involves the company’s survival.”

They presented their memo to Toyota management, but never received a response, the Times said.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, one of the workers involved with the 2006 memo outlined his concerns. Tadao Wakatsuki, 62, a veteran assembly line worker who formed the All Toyota Labor Union, said that outsourcing key design work and shortening the trial-and-error period for new cars were particularly worrisome.

Warnings came from others as well. Japanese automobile consumer advocate Fumio Matsuda told the Los Angeles Times that Toyota’s business practices “were the most secretive of all.” According to Matsuda, Toyota sponsored “secret recalls,” asking owners to visit dealers for vehicle checkups, a ploy that allowed them to replace defective parts and then charge the owner for the work.

Matsuda said he believed that Toyota also knew of defects involved in the most recent recalls long before going public. He told the Los Angeles Times that he believed criminal charges will ultimately be filed relating to recent recalls.

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