Toyota Motor Co. and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew in 2007 of unintended-acceleration reports in Lexus ES 350 sedans in Ohio.
At least three of every 100 Lexus ES 350 owners in that state reported experiencing unintended acceleration during a months-long NHTSA investigation, which concluded that only a small number of vehicles were affected.
Toyota and NHTSA regulators decided that the cause was the accelerator getting stuck in the grooves of all-weather floor mats, so the company declared a recall of about 55,000 floor mats and the case was closed. The final report on the study is dated April 30, 2008.
Now, after massive recalls on three continents to correct the potential of unintended acceleration in Toyota brand models, Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., told Automotive News: "It's not clear how far back this goes."
Stupak cited the investigation -- and said he is aware of reports of unintended acceleration involving Toyota models as far back as 2004 -- in questioning whether Toyota has been completely truthful about when its problems with unintended acceleration began. Stupak chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee's subcommittee on oversight,
The president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Jim Lentz, has told congressional investigators that the company first discovered problems with sticky accelerator pedals in October.
"There's no doubt Mr. Lentz is putting his best foot forward," Stupak said. "But when it comes to safety, we can't have contradictory statements."
Stupak and energy committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., are spearheading an investigation of both Toyota's and NHTSA's performance dating from 2000. They've scheduled a Feb. 25 hearing.
Toyota Motor Sales CEO Yoshi Inaba also is scheduled to testify Wednesday, Feb. 10, before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
"We believe our statements have been consistent, and we will endeavor to explain this to the committees next week," Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said.
Stupak and Waxman sent a letter to Toyota this week asking the company to reconcile conflicts in statements made to investigators and on television about the source of the acceleration problems.
In public, Toyota has attributed its problems to clingy floor mats and sticky gas pedals. But in conversations with committee staff, company officials have expressed some doubts about the causes, the letter said.
Separately, Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., wrote to Toyota executives yesterday, Feb. 3, asking for information dating back to 2001 about complaints of unintended acceleration and other matters.
He cited accidents as far back as 2007 that were attributable to unintended acceleration.
"Toyota's delay in announcing recalls perplexes and frankly rather perturbs me," his letter said.
Dingell asked Toyota to provide responses by Feb. 22.
Neil Roland contributed to this report