executive said Tuesday that the automaker hadn’t ruled out electronics
as a potential cause of sudden acceleration, and conceded that fixing
floor mats and sticking gas pedals would “not totally” solve the
top U.S. sales executive, also apologized for a series of missteps that
allowed the sudden acceleration problem to go unchecked for years,
Lentz blamed the company’s rapid growth in recent
years, and acknowledged that it suffered from poor communications, both
within its ranks as well as with its customers.
assertion that floor mats and sticky gas pedals were behind the sudden
acceleration problem. But he also held out the potential for other
causes, the first time a
Sudden acceleration, he said, “has many, many
causes,” adding that transmission software problems, faulty cruise
control and even engine revs caused by engaging the air conditioner
could trigger sudden acceleration events.
His testimony came in the first of three congressional hearings called to investigate how
Lentz told the committee that the automaker planned
to install an electronic program that allows the brake to override the
throttle on a larger number of its vehicles than previously announced,
but stopped short of promising to install it on all the millions of
Toyotas already on the road.
Asked what solace he could offer
Later in the day, Transportation Secretary
LaHood was asked whether regulators moved quickly and effectively to address the complaints of sudden acceleration in
chairman of the committee, told LaHood there needs to be “fundamental
reform” of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is
overseen by the Transportation Department.
“We may be coming to you and asking you for some legislative remedies,” LaHood responded.
Overall, LaHood defended his agency’s handling of
the sudden acceleration problem but acknowledged that his investigators
had trouble getting
Under questioning, he also confirmed that NHTSA has
just two electrical engineers on staff, out of 125 engineers total, but
that they were “about to add another one.” Waxman and others contend
that NHTSA is not equipped to regulate cars that increasingly are
governed by electronic components.
Indeed, the role of electronics was the recurrent
theme at Tuesday’s hearing. With dozens of reporters and television
cameras present, members of the congressional committee pressed Lentz
repeatedly on the potential for sudden acceleration to be caused by
malfunctions in its electronic throttle system.
“You have been evasive,” said Rep.
That sentiment was echoed by Rep.
Lentz, who said that while he is in charge of sales
and marketing, he has no direct control over safety and quality issues,
at times appeared shaken by the line of questioning. At one point, he
choked up as he mentioned that his brother had died in a car accident
30 years ago. “There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t think of
him,” he said.
Earlier in the all-day hearing, several witnesses testified that
That work was commissioned by
had a joint-venture assembly plant in his state, questioned the
validity of the study, because he claimed it was paid for, indirectly,
by plaintiff lawyers that are suing
Kane said he did receive money from such lawyers for
his work, but said that did not impact the study. “I am uncomfortable
with your advocacy and I just want you to know that,” Buyer said.
In turn, other lawmakers questioned the financial underpinnings of a study commissioned by
in product liability suits and that Exponent received tens of millions
of dollars per year in fees from the auto industry in general.
“How much has
The most emotional testimony of the day came from
Sobbing openly, Smith described reaching speeds of
90 mph without her feet on the pedal and finding the brakes and
shifting into neutral to be ineffective in stopping the car. She said
the cause was definitely not floor mats, yet described being made to
feel like a liar by
for being so greedy,” Smith said, also pointing her finger at the
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for not doing something
about sudden acceleration earlier. “Shame on NHTSA for not doing their
job,” she added.
For its part,
plans to launche a “swat team” of specialists who would investigate
vehicles with safety troubles within 24 hours and would create at least
two new committees to upgrade the ability of the company to address
safety problems in the U.S., moving away from the tight control
exercised by its
Whether that will be effective remains to be seen. On Sunday, congressional investigators released a
“It’s unacceptable when companies pay more attention to their costs than the safety of their customers,” said Rep.
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