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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Toyota knew of sticking pedals months ago


By KEN THOMAS and LARRY MARGASAK
Associated Press

WASHINGTON Toyota issued internal repair procedures for sticking accelerator pedals to its own distributors in 31 European countries months before it warned U.S. regulators about the problem and on the same day it told the U.S. government it would conduct a recall over loose floor mats, according to Toyota documents obtained yesterday by The Associated Press.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood earlier this week cited the Sept. 29 European warnings in his decision to assess a record $16.4 million fine on the Japanese automaker for failing to alert the U.S. government to its safety problems quickly enough. LaHood yesterday said Toyota made a "huge mistake" by not disclosing safety problems with gas pedals on some of its most popular models sooner.

Detailed chronologies provided by Toyota to the government and obtained by the AP show rising concerns at the end of 2009 about sticking gas pedals and complaints from Toyota owners in the U.S. about the problem. According to the documents, Toyota's European division issued technical information to European distributors "identifying a production improvement and repair procedure to address complaints by customers in those countries of sticking accelerator pedals, sudden rpm increase and/or sudden vehicle acceleration."

On the same day, Toyota told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of its decision to recall several Toyota and Lexus vehicle models "to address the risk of accelerator pedal entrapment by all-weather floor mats," according to a timeline of the company's handling of that recall. The two timelines, labeled "preliminary chronology of principal events," were provided to the U.S. government March 24.

The documents obtained by AP were among 70,000 pages turned over to U.S. government investigators. They detail internal communications and testing of the sticking pedals before Toyota presented its findings to the NHTSA four months later, at a meeting in Washington on Jan. 19. Two days later, Toyota announced it would recall 2.3 million vehicles to address the sticking pedals.

LaHood told reporters in Chicago yesterday that he wouldn't be surprised if a review of documents from Toyota Motor Corp. uncovers additional safety lapses by the Japanese automaker:

"This is the first thing that we have found. It may not be the last thing," he said.