NAGOYA – A Toyota Motor Corp. executive said Tuesday that the company was aware of problems with gas pedal systems as early as in 2007 but could not spot the exact defect and failed to recall products immediately.
Toyota received consumer complaints in 2007 that the gas pedal in its Tundra pickup sometimes wouldn’t return quickly when released, Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota’s executive vice president in charge of quality and customer service operations, said at a news conference.
Toyota replaced the material of some parts of the gas pedal system, but it did not find the defect that led Toyota to recall millions of cars earlier this month, he said.
Toyota was ultimately prodded by U.S. regulators late last year to make a swift decision on implementing the recalls.
Sasaki denied that the automaker’s electronic throttle system was behind the trouble. The system, known as ETCS-i, is at the center of class-action lawsuits involving owners of Toyota vehicles in the United States and Canada.
According to Sasaki, gas pedals in the vehicles subject to the recall, including the Tundra, might not return to their original position quickly if moisture builds up on the root part of the pedal.
On Monday, Toyota announced a remedy for the faulty accelerator pedals and said it will begin repairing the recalled vehicles in the United States, Canada and Europe by inserting a steel reinforcement bar. It will also resume suspended production of the eight recalled models in five plants in North America next Monday.
“We put priority on notifying our customers as quickly as possible even if this resulted in confusion among our dealers and the frontline of our production,” Sasaki said. “As a result, there was a time lag in the announcements of the remedy measures and the recall.”
At least 12 lawsuits
BLOOMBERG Toyota Motor Corp. faces at least 12 lawsuits seeking class-action status in the U.S. and Canada connected to the company’s recalls over sudden acceleration of its vehicles.
A suit was filed on behalf of all Canadian owners, operators, lessors and passengers of Toyota vehicles with an electronic throttle system called ETCS-i, Rochon Genova LLP, a Toronto law firm, said Monday. Consumers in Texas sued Friday on behalf of all owners of Toyota and Lexus models equipped with the throttle system in that state.
“Toyota has long known about the defect with their throttle control and has done too little, too late to correct it,” said attorney Robert Hilliard, who is representing Sylvia and Albert Pena in the Texas suit in federal court in Corpus Christi.
The suits follow multiple recalls by Toyota and a Jan. 26 decision by the company to stop U.S. production and sales of eight models to fix defective accelerator pedals. Plaintiffs in the Texas and Canadian suits claim the pedals and floor mats cited in earlier recalls aren’t the primary reason for the sudden-acceleration episodes.
Cases over sudden acceleration seeking class-action status were previously filed in California, Florida and Louisiana.
The sudden-acceleration events aren’t caused by an electronic defect, said John Hanson, a spokesman for Toyota.
“After many years of extensive testing by us and other organizations, we have found no evidence for an electronic problem that would have led to unintended acceleration,” he said.
“Electronics are not part of the issue,” Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said Monday in a conference call. The company has pinpointed the cause and has an effective solution, he said.
Toyota sent repair kits to dealers, whose mechanics will insert a metal replacement plate into the pedals of recalled vehicles, the company said. New cars will have a redesigned pedal, Lentz said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in October it tested for electronic interference and found no evidence to support allegations of a defect. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in a conference call Monday declined to talk about the electronic question.
“Toyota has done the right thing by providing a remedy for this serious safety issue,” LaHood said of the recall.
Consumer Reports hasn’t been able to replicate braking problems related to electronics in Toyotas at its test facility in East Haddam, Conn., David Champion, director of auto testing for the magazine, said Friday.
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