WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda told lawmakers yesterday he first learned of problems with unintended acceleration only in late 2009 despite thousands of U.S. consumer complaints over the previous decade.
Toyoda, speaking through an interpreter, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he learned of the problems several months after becoming president in July. He didn’t name a specific month.
He acknowledged having worked for the company for a number of years before that, but added, “I didn’t have that sort of information with the same degree of accuracy that I do now.”
Toyoda, 53, the grandson of the company’s founder, joined the company in 1984, according to his official biography. He became an executive vice president in June 2005 with responsibilities that included sales and operations.
In his testimony, Toyoda also said he was not aware of the contents of a December meeting in Tokyo between U.S. auto-safety regulators and Toyota quality assurance executives.
Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., asked Toyoda if he was unaware of unintended acceleration issues even after that December meeting.
“That would constitute extraordinary compartmentalization,” Connolly said.
“There was a meeting with NHTSA representatives, but I don’t know the content of that meeting,” Toyoda said.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified that in December he sent NHTSA officials to meet with Toyota in Japan to prod them to address a series of problems with unintended acceleration.
After that meeting, LaHood said he called Toyoda himself to urge him to put higher priority on safety issues.
There have been over 2,500 U.S. consumer complaints about unintended acceleration over the last decade, according to Safety Research & Strategies, a safety advocacy group.
The turning point in public awareness of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles occurred after the fatal August 2009 crash in San Diego of a California state trooper and three passengers in a runaway Lexus ES350.