WASHINGTON — Toyota's top U.S. sales executive plans to tell Congress that the automaker believes faulty electronics are not to blame for unintended accelerations in its vehicles.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., will tell lawmakers Thursday that the company "remains confident" that electronics did not cause the problems that led to more than 8 million recalled vehicles.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is holding a hearing Thursday to review complaints of electronic problems in Toyotas. Safety groups have said electronics could be the culprit for the safety issues. The government and Congress is investigating.
Toyota, the world's largest automaker, has paid a record $16.4 million fine for a slow response to an accelerator pedal recall and faces hundreds of state and federal lawsuits. The Transportation Department could assess more penalties if it finds evidence the company delayed other recalls.
Toyota's safety concerns have led to the first major review of U.S. auto safety laws in Congress since the large tire recalls by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. in 2000.
A Senate committee on Wednesday was hearing from David Strickland, the head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, along with automakers and safety groups.
Strickland, in written testimony prepared for delivery, said documents provided by Toyota are so numerous that NHTSA is working with the Justice Department to categorize and analyze the documents. "That task will take some time," he said.
The Senate legislation would require auto manufacturers to meet new standards related to brake override systems, vehicle black boxes and auto electronics. It would give NHTSA the power to order an immediate recall if it finds an "imminent hazard of death or serious injury."
Strickland raised concerns about the Senate version of the bill, saying it stops short of granting NHTSA the full authority to issue a prompt recall. A similar version in the House gives the agency those powers.
He also said NHTSA may need more time and flexibility to develop the safety standards, a complaint echoed by automakers who say the deadlines are too tight.
Toyota has sought to beef up its safety reviews following the recall crisis. In his update to lawmakers, Lentz will note that dealers have fixed nearly 3.5 million vehicles under the recall.
The company, meanwhile, has completed more than 600 onsite vehicle inspections while technicians at dealerships have conducted another 1,400 inspections. Toyota has provided the House committee investigating the problem with more than 700 technical reports.
"Significantly, none of these investigations have found that our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence, or ETCS-i, was the cause," Lentz said in prepared remarks.
Toyota hired consulting firm Exponent Inc. to review the electronics of its vehicles. The firm has completed more than 11,000 hours of testing and analysis of the electronic system and the automaker intends to publish the firm findings regardless of its conclusions.
Exponent has tried to counter testimony by an Illinois engineering professor at a February congressional hearing that he recreated sudden acceleration in a Toyota Tundra by short-circuiting the electronics behind the gas pedal — without triggering any trouble codes in the truck's computer.
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