WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee called on Toyota Motor Corp.'s leaders to start putting safety first and paying attention to consumer complaints.
Rep. Henry Waxman also said legislation would be needed to toughen the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's oversight.
"There is no evidence that Toyota or NHTSA took a serious look at the possibility that electronic defects could be causing the problem," Waxman, D-Calif., said today in helping begin the first congressional hearing into Toyota's safety defects. "Toyota failed its customers, and NHTSA neglected its responsibilities."
Scheduled to testify today are Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who oversees NHTSA.
Waxman said the House committee’s review found that Toyota received about 2,600 complaints of unintended acceleration, 700 of which involved accidents.
Toyota's response was either to blame the drivers or attribute the problem to floor-mat entrapment or sticky gas pedals, he said. NHTSA accepted Toyota's explanations "without doing any meaningful independent review," Waxman added.
Anticipating Lentz's testimony, he said the Toyota executive likely would repeat an earlier statement "that the fix in place is going to stop what's going on."
Said Waxman: "That seems unlikely."
As for NHTSA, he said the agency lacks the expertise and resources needed to assess Toyota's claims.
"Carmakers have entered the electronics era, but NHTSA seems stuck in a mechanical mind-set," Waxman said. "I believe addressing this problem will require legislation."
He didn't specify what might be the contents of such legislation.