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Recall memos up stakes for Toyota
Internal memos on safety recalls raise pressure on car marker ahead of US inquiry.
Last Modified: 22 Feb 2010 09:38 GMT
Akio Toyoda is preparing to be questioned on Toyota's response time to safety issues [Reuters]

Documents released in the US have shown that Toyota knew of safety problems with some of its vehicles as early as last June, and lobbied US regulators to head off an investigation.

One internal company memo uncovered by congressional investigators showed Toyota officials boasting of saving $100m by limiting the extent of vehicle recalls.

The documents also cite efforts to delay safety regulations, avoid investigations, and stall industry requirements.

The latest development in Toyota's safety crisis came as the company's president arrived in Washington to prepare for a congressional hearing on Wednesday, in a bid to salvage the Japanese car giant's dented reputation.

The memos are among thousands that a congressional committee has requested in a subpoena of Dimitrios Biller, who worked as a US lawyer for Toyota from 2003 to 2007.

'Hiding evidence'

Biller said the internal company documents show the firm was hiding evidence of safety defects from consumers and regulators.

More than 8.5 million vehicles have been affected by Toyota's global safety recall [EPA]
In a document referring to important security issues, Toyota mentioned "sudden accelerations" on some of its vehicles, showing the company was aware of such problems in July of last year.

Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles worldwide in recent months following a series of complaints and a slew of lawsuits linking vehicle flaws to 30 deaths across the US.

The problems include sticky accelerators, accelerators that can be pinned down by loose floor mats and a braking glitch affecting its hybrid models.

Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota Motor Corp, is due to face a hearing before the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday.

Review

Toyota

Founded in 1937, based in Toyota City, Japan

 Employs approximately 320,000 people worldwide, with manufacturing or assembly plants in 27 countries

 Overtook GM in 2008 to become world's number one selling carmaker

 Sold 7.8 million vehicles worldwide in 2009, including the Prius, the first commercial, mass-produced hybrid car

 Reported a record annual loss of $4.4bn in May, due to impact of global financial crisis

After initially ruling out such an appearance, he has since acknowledged that the automaker founded by his grandfather let its standards slip during fast growth over the past decade.

The panel will question Toyoda over his company's response to the safety issues.

Toyota in response to the internal memo reiterated in a statement late on Sunday that it was conducting a top-to-bottom review of all its operations.

It said its first priority has always been consumer safety and that "to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong".

"Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality," said the statement.

But the US transport department said the document highlighted Toyota's slow response to the safety problems.

"Unfortunately, this document is very telling," said Olivia Alair, a department spokeswoman, in an emailed statement.

Source:
Agencies
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