LOS ANGELES -- Toyota has named former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater to head a new panel that will advise the company's North American operations on quality and safety issues.
As part of its work, the independent panel will investigate Toyota's electronic throttle system that has been a controversial issue in the recall of Toyota and Lexus vehicles in this country.
Toyota executives insist that electronics are not to blame for the unintended acceleration problems but others, such as Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert, believe that the electronic throttle systems could cause the runaway cars.
Toyota said the panel will have an unlimited budget and will have access to studies already conducted by and for Toyota on its electronic throttle system.
“I am pleased that Secretary Slater has accepted our invitation to lead the distinguished group of safety and quality experts who will help Toyota to improve its quality controls in North America,” Yoshi Inaba, president of Toyota's North American Operations, said in a statement.
“We are committed to more transparency regarding our safety and quality controls, and the independent advisors will have our full cooperation and access to any information they believe they need.”
The panel will work closely with Toyota's North American leadership team and will have direct access to Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, Toyota said in a statement.
Toyota has not named other members of the panel but said that Slater, who was transportation secretary under President Bill Clinton, will be involved in the selection process.
Toyota has recalled over six million vehicles in the United States for problems related to unintended acceleration. The company says improperly placed floor mats and sticky pedals are the cause.
On Monday, a 2008 Prius sped out of control with speeds at more than 90 miles per hour on an interstate highway just east of San Diego. The driver said the pedal stuck. With the help of a state trooper, the driver was able to stop the car. No one was injured.
A team from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the California Highway Patrol and Toyota are investigating that incident.