Sustained Outrage

toyota-logoIt’s been another very tough week for Toyota. Let’s review:

On Tuesday, during a full day of testimony in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) told company representatives: “Safety took a second seat to profits . . . . [t]hings do not happen in Japanese corporations by chance. They happen by decision.”

Then on Thursday, there were reports that some of the cars that had been serviced as part of the recall were experiencing incidents of unintended acceleration after they had been fixed. You can read Toyota’s official response here.

Also on Thursday, the Associated Press released this in-depth review of Toyota’s efforts to keep others, including regulators and opposing attorneys in lawsuits, from getting information stored in on-vehicle event data recorders similar to black boxes on airplanes.

The AP investigation found that Toyota has been inconsistent — and sometimes even contradictory — in revealing exactly what the devices record and don’t record, including critical data about whether the brake or accelerator pedals were depressed at the time of a crash.

By contrast, most other automakers routinely allow much more open access to information from their event data recorders, commonly known as EDRs.

And today, Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) sent another strongly worded letter to James E. Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., who testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce on Feb. 23. The letter demands that the automaker be more forthcoming with Congress.

We do not understand the basis for Toyota’s repeated assertions that it is “confident” there are no electronic defects contributing to incidents of sudden unintended acceleration. We wrote you on February 2, 2010, to request “all analyses or documents that substantiate” Toyota’s claim that electronic malfunctions are not causing sudden unintended acceleration. The documents that Toyota provided in response to this request did not provide convincing substantiation. We explained our concerns about the failure of Toyota to substantiate its assertions in our letter to you on February 22, 2010.

It may be that Toyota has done “extensive” and “very rigorous” testing of its vehicles for electronic defects. But if so, the results of this testing should have been provided to the Committee. Despite our repeated requests, the record before the Committee is most notable for what is missing: the absence of documents showing that Toyota has systematically investigated the possibility of electronic defects that could cause sudden unintended acceleration.

To assist the Committee in its investigation of these matters, we ask that you identify the official or officials who have personal knowledge of Toyota’s efforts to test its vehicles for electronic defects that could cause sudden unintended acceleration and make them available to the Committee for transcribed interviews next week.