Last week, we learned that a top Toyota executive warned the company that it needed "to come clean" about its sudden acceleration problem before Toyota ever told safety regulators at NHTSA or the American public about the problem. We already knew that Toyota warned European drivers about Toyota’s "sticky pedal" problem before warning those of us in the United States. I have documented for months that Toyota denied and ignored the sudden acceleration problem for more than five years.
Now, more evidence has surfaced that Toyota knew about sudden acceleration problems years before finally acknowledging the problem to safety investigators and the public.
From Bloomberg News:
April 9 (Bloomberg) — Toyota Motor Corp. knew about flaws that could cause unintended acceleration more than 3 1/2 years before it recalled cars and trucks to fix the defects, according to company timelines.
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, learned that floor mats could entrap accelerator pedals as early as Feb. 7, 2006, and that pedals could stick five months later, according to documents dated March 24 that were submitted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and obtained yesterday.
The timelines show what Toyota has said was a slow response that led to the recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide starting last year to repair the two types of acceleration- related defects.
The first report was from a model year 2005 Prius hybrid “regarding floor mat interference with an accelerator pedal,” according to the documents, which the carmaker sent to the safety agency.
So, what does Toyota have to say for itself after yet another revelation about its abhorrent conduct? According to the Bloomberg report… not much.
“We are not going to elaborate on any documents provided to NHTSA,” Toyota said in an e-mailed statement. “We’ve already acknowledged on several occasions that the company did a poor job of communicating during the period preceding our recent recalls.”
So, according to Toyota, engaging in an orchestrated cover-up of known safety problems that have killed at least 100 people while lying to government safety regulators and the American public amounts to "a poor job of communicating."
Court documents in a Canadian civil case also prove that Toyota knew about dangerous sudden acceleration problems years before publicly acknowledging the problems.
The New York Times reported that documents filed in the Canadian case showed that Toyota knew the sudden acceleration problem was serious even as Toyota officials downplayed the problem to the public and safety regulators.
The Times published some of the internal Toyota communications:
“Oh man!!!!!!,” Michael Bumstead the parts and service manager for the Lexus division of Toyota Canada, wrote in an e-mail message in July 2004, questioning the company’s decision to test-drive customers’ cars to assess the complaints before taking action. “Surely they don’t really need to drive these cars. Surely everyone knows these conditions by now. I hope everyone understands the problems this has caused.”
The minutes from an August 2004 technical service meeting also indicated how seriously dealers viewed the complaints.
“Lexus dealer owners are using the term ‘franchise threatening’ regarding this issue,” the minutes said. “These dealers are shielding us from many complaints and buybacks with some hope that we are going to make an improvement soon.”
Toyota did not bother telling federal safety regulators or the American public about Toyota’s "franchise threatening" safety problems until late 2009 and early 2010.
Toyota’s conduct has been so egregious that the U.S. hit Toyota with the largest fine permissible under the law – $16.4 million (or about $1.50 for each vehicle that Toyota recalled so far). Are you a Toyota owner? Are you outraged at Toyota’s conduct?
Are you not a Toyota owner? How do you feel about Toyota putting your life at risk also? Are you outraged that Toyota would attempt to hide a dangerous safety defect from the public and safety regulators for months or even years? I am.
To date, there have been more than 100 confirmed sudden acceleration deaths. Why are those in power seemingly "ok" with Toyota’s conscious, calculated decision to put profits over safety by hiding a "dangerous defect" that Toyota knew was killing people?
If Toyota was willing to try and cover up and lie about the "sticky" pedal problem, what else is Toyota lying about?
Do you think Toyota would lie about electronic causes of the sudden acceleration problem?
Toyota has spent millions of dollars trying to convince the public that electronics are not a cause of Toyota’s sudden acceleration defect. However, a panel of leading experts, including the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), held a press conference last week to refute Toyota’s claims that electronics play no role in Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem.
You can view the entire press conference here.
Last week, safety experts found a "smoking gun" Toyota document from 2002 where Toyota identified electronic problems that caused "engine surge" in its 2002 Camry vehicles. We also learned last week that federal safety investigators asked Toyota in 2007 to install software that would prevent sudden acceleration.
Toyota’s focus on PR, market share and profits rather than on safety and actually fixing the deadly sudden acceleration problem is both disturbing and disappointing. Rather than focusing on a solution to the sudden acceleration crisis, Toyota has remained steadfastly focused on protecting its image rather than protecting its drivers. Toyota continues to put market share and profits ahead of safety and human life.
Toyota went so far as to create internal company documents bragging about how Toyota "wins" when safety loses. In fact, Toyota bragged about saving more than $100 million when it used its special interest lobbyists — former NHTSA safety officials hired by Toyota — to avoid a sudden acceleration recall in 2007. Only a month after Toyota’s bragging document was produced, a family of four was killed when their Lexus vehicle accelerated out of control in California.
When automotive professor, David Gilbert, created a test that showed Toyota’s electronics could cause sudden unintended acceleration, Toyota’s litigation defense lawyers used an "unlimited budget" to buy testing designed solely to discredit Professor Gilbert’s test (a test that Toyota officials admitted to Congress that Toyota had been able to reproduce).
Toyota engineers did not develop a test to see if they correct the design flaw that permitted electronically induced acceleration. Rather, Toyota’s defense lawyers used hired guns to discredit an independent automotive professor that dared to challenge Toyota’s public statements.
Throughout the sudden acceleration time line, one thing has been consistent: Toyota has consistently misled the public about the nature and severity of the Toyota sudden acceleration problem. When given the opportunity to come forward with information, Toyota has chosen lie after lie after lie.
You can view the time line of Toyota’s checkered safety history here.
Toyota has a well-documented history of attempted cover-ups of safety problems. The Detroit Free Press has documented how Toyota has stonewalled the investigation of these problems since at least 2003.
After dragging its feet and being called "safety deaf" on the sudden acceleration recall, Toyota did it again when Toyota knew of the problems with its Prius brakes long before warning its drivers, customers and innocent motorists. Not only are the multiple Toyota recalls hurting consumers, they are hurting rental car companies as well.
Now, Toyota has said its own data recorders are not reliable. What are these black boxes saying that has Toyota withholding this evidence. If these black boxes said that drivers were hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, you know Toyota would be holding these black boxes up in front of every television camera and microphone in the country. What else is Toyota covering up?
It’s time that the public finally hold Toyota accountable for putting profits over safety and money over lives.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.