WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp. is retrofitting brake override systems on about half the U.S. vehicles that have been recalled for unintended acceleration -- drawing bipartisan criticism from lawmakers that the company is not going far enough.
The president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., Jim Lentz, said today that the company is making the software upgrades on 3.3 million vehicles encompassing seven models on the road “as an additional measure of confidence for our customers.”
Among the vehicles included are those with a pushbutton start and all Camrys, he told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight.
Toyota is not installing brake override technology -- which cuts off engine power when the brake and gas pedals are depressed -- on the 3.3 million other vehicles that have been recalled for unintended acceleration since September, Lentz said.
“It takes a tremendous amount of engineering resources and time to do that,” he said. While the upgrades increase consumer confidence, “I can't say 100 percent it will necessarily make cars safer,” he added.
In addition, Toyota is applying the change to all new models starting by year end, Lentz said. Toyota hybrids already have a braking system that achieves a similar result.
Toyota has recalled about 6.6 million U.S. vehicles for sudden acceleration since September. The company has blamed the problems on floor mat interference and sticky gas pedals.
Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he wasn't satisfied by Lentz's explanation of why Toyota wasn't retrofitting brake override systems on all recalled U.S. cars.
“I don't see your giving us assurances on safety,” said Waxman, D-Calif. “I want people to feel good about safety.”
It costs Toyota only $50 a vehicle to install, said subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich.
Toyota will not offer this option to vehicle owners willing to pay the expense themselves because the new software is “unique to each and every vehicle,” Lentz said.
Said Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas: “It does seem like it would make sense to add the feature. Then none of the rest of us would have to worry.”
Legislation introduced by Waxman and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce Committee in that chamber, would require brake override technology on all new vehicles.
Auto industry lobbyists have said it is inevitable that this provision will pass Congress because of bipartisan support. They, too, support the requirement but say the legislation should be less stringent in the technology required and should allow for longer timelines for installation.
David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said today that the agency still may propose a brake override requirement as a regulation.