US was alerted about Toyota

Akio Toyoda (SUPPLIED)

The largest US auto insurer alerted regulators earlier than first believed about a worrying trend of accidents involving Toyota Motor Corp vehicles, while the Obama administration's top transportation official said he would not relax pressure on the car maker.

Both developments came as Toyota's President Akio Toyoda readied to fly to Washington in an extraordinary appearance to answer questions from lawmakers on Wednesday about the safety crisis that has engulfed the company founded by his grandfather.

State Farm, whose records have been sought by two congressional committees investigating recalls and complaints related to unintended acceleration in Toyota cars and trucks, revised its report on Friday of when it notified the government about certain Toyota claims activity. The insurer said earlier this month it had contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late 2007. However, prompted by the public interest in Toyota, the insurer reviewed its records again and has now found that it contacted safety regulators initially in 2004, State Farm spokesman Phil Supple said in a statement.

The information has been sought by House of Representatives committees probing questions around recent recalls of millions of Toyota vehicles related to loose floor mats that can jam accelerators and gas pedals that do not spring back as designed.

The first of three congressional hearings is on Tuesday, but much of the focus for the moment has settled on the second hearing, the next day, when company president Toyoda is scheduled to testify. Toyoda said he intends to provide a "sincere explanation" to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee of problems that led to the string of recalls since late last year.

 

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