March 02, 2010

Udall Questions Toyota, Gov’t Officials During Senate Probe of Massive Vehicle Recall

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-NM, today questioned Toyota Motor Company and government officials during a Commerce Committee probe of the company's massive vehicle safety recall, which was spurred by thousands of consumer complaints and at least 34 deaths.

"For years, Toyota has enjoyed a stellar reputation here in America, and around the world. But the reality is, too many Toyota vehicles driven over the past decade haven't been safe," Udall said during the hearing. "As a result, dozens of people have died, hundreds have been hurt, thousands have been inconvenienced, and hardworking employees at dealerships in New Mexico now face an uncertain future in an already uncertain economy."

Udall joined his fellow Commerce Committee members in questioning Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood; David Strickland, Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; and several Toyota executives, including Toyota Motor Corporation Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki.

Since last fall, Toyota has recalled more than six million vehicles in the United States for safety issues that include sudden acceleration and momentary loss of braking. Combined, more than 15 models have been recalled. At least 34 deaths have been reported due to sudden acceleration since 2000. Although there have been no reported fatalities related to the recalls there has been at least one crash that resulted in injuries in New Mexico.

During the morning session, which focused on the government's response to the recalls, Udall asked LaHood why a reported spike in consumer safety complaints did not trigger an alarm within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Udall was referring to a report in today's New York Times that found more Toyota customers in the United States have filed complaints about crashes that involved loss of speed control than customers of General Motors or Ford, even though those automakers have sold more vehicles.

"It seems to me you should have something in your database that, when you get a spike like this, ... it alerts people that there is something wrong and immediately starts [an investigation] that could have gotten to the bottom of this a lot sooner," Udall said to LaHood.

During the afternoon session, which focused on Toyota's actions leading up to and after the recalls, Udall asked company officials whether brake override technology not currently available in Toyota models - but considered by many manufacturers to be an essential safety device - would be added to all Toyota vehicles currently on the road. Company officials responded that they hope to have the technology in models that have received the most consumer complaints by the end of the year.