Product Liability

Federal government ordered Toyota production and sales suspension

Yesterday, Toyota ran full-page advertisements in more than 20 major American newspapers to tell customers that its decision to suspend production and sales of many of its top-selling vehicles is just a “Temporary pause. To put you first,” as the headline proclaims.

“Why have we taken this unprecedented action?” Toyota asks in the ad. “Because it’s the right thing to do for our customers.”

However, Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood’s told Chicago radio station WGN last week that the federal government pressed the company to halt production of the vehicles.

“The reason Toyota decided to do the recall and to stop manufacturing was because we asked them to.”

Considering Toyota’s slow and reluctant response to consumer complaints, LaHood’s statement may leave loyal Toyota customers wondering whether the company would had acted at all if it weren’t for government pressure.

Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich, and his staff are set to met with Toyota officials on Wednesday.  Stupak, who leads the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, said that he is “very concerned” about the acceleration issues in Toyota vehicles.

“This unprecedented recall and the resulting halt in vehicle production and auto sales highlight the serious nature of this defect,” Stupak said in a statement.

“I applaud the action taken by Toyota and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to halt the production of models affected by sticking accelerators until Toyota can resolve the defective component or design causing this dangerous malfunction,” Stupak added.

Stupak also said that he would continue to “press for answers” in Wednesday’s meeting with Toyota executives.

“We want to find out what Toyota knows,” Stupak said.

Stupak’s comments suggest that he, like many safety advocates and Toyota customers, believe that sticking accelerator pedals and defective floor mats may not be the only defects causing so many Toyota vehicles to accelerate suddenly and unintentionally.

Beasley Allen attorney Graham Esdale, a leading investigator of Toyota’s unintended acceleration problems, says all the attention on the accelerator pedals is a distraction.

“It’s not a sticking accelerator pedal. Just like it wasn’t the floor mats. They are doing everything they can to direct attention away from the electronics.”

Esdale’s assertion is supported by other industry experts. “The way the sudden-acceleration problems are occurring in reported incidents doesn’t comport with how this sticky pedal is described,” Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, an auto safety consulting firm told the Los Angeles Times. “We know this recall is a red herring.”

Toyota’s recent decision to standardize a brake override system in all of its new vehicles, as well as the company’s plan to install such systems in some of the older recalled models have been explained as extra confidence-building gifts from Toyota to the consumer.

But evidence continues to mount that floor mats and accelerator pedals have nothing to do with the sudden acceleration defect.

Recent evidence turned up by ABC News supports Esdale’s claims.

Just after Christmas, four people died when the Toyota they were in sped out of control and landed upside down in a pond. Investigators found the floor mats had been removed and stashed in the trunk as the vehicle’s owners had been instructed.

Another recent incident involved a New Jersey man whose Avalon accelerated violently. Kevin Haggerty told ABC News that he managed to navigate his racing car to his dealership by shifting repeatedly between drive and neutral. When he arrived, the service manger was able to verify that the floor mat and gas pedal were not to blame.

One of Esdale’s clients was driving her Camry on an Oklahoma interstate when it began to speed out of control. The client was critically injured when her car crashed. Her friend, who was riding as a passenger, was killed in the accident.

Esdale said photos of the vehicle reveal the floor mat is properly secured and there is no evidence that the mat jammed the gas pedal.