US investigators cast fresh doubt on Toyota

US investigators doubt Toyota fully understands its accelerator problems and are even less sure that new floor mats are an adequate solution, a memo to lawmakers showed Tuesday.

A congressional committee will publicly grill the Japanese automaker's top brass as well as federal regulators later this month over the safety crisis that has led to 8.7 million vehicle recalls worldwide.

Investigators briefed lawmakers from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on their preliminary analysis in a memorandum critical of both Toyota and the US government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

"There appears to be a growing body of evidence that neither Toyota nor NHTSA have identified all the causes of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles," said the memo dated February 5 but released on Tuesday.

"Moreover, there is substantial evidence that remedies such as redesigned floor mats have failed to solve the problem.

"This hearing will examine the question of whether Toyota and NHTSA have failed to meet their statutory and regulatory responsibilities," the memorandum read.

Representative Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee said he had sent letters to five insurers requesting information they had received from customers about Toyota problems.

He said the committee was also seeking details of any warnings the companies may have passed on to the NHTSA, after reports said insurers had informed the agency about a pattern of customer complaints.

The House Oversight Committee's hearing, originally scheduled for Wednesday, was postponed until February 24 as another winter storm pummeled the already snowed-under US capital.

Toyota meanwhile announced it was recalling hundreds of thousands of hybrid vehicles worldwide, including its best-selling Prius, due to a flaw in the braking system, plunging it deeper into crisis.

Facing a barrage of complaints ranging from unintended acceleration to brake failure, Toyota is scrambling to reassure drivers it did not sacrifice safety in its successful drive to become the world's largest automaker.

Class action lawsuits have piled up in the United States as the Japanese giant follows up its recalls with desperate attempts to redesign floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals.

Amid accusations Toyota knew about the problems for years and was slow to act, company president Akio Toyoda sought to reassure customers again Tuesday and offered the latest in a string of apologies for the technical troubles.

The Toyota family scion, under fire for his handling of the crisis, said he planned to travel to the United States to explain the safety woes, but will not personally attend the planned US congressional hearing.

 

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