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Toyota Avoided Major Recall in 2007

Mar 19, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Toyota used a “game plan” in 2007 to escape issuing a major recall of vehicles for problems with unintended acceleration. Instead, The Washington Post reports, Toyota was able to get away with a much more limited floor mat recall.

According to the Post, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), opened the floor mat inquiry in March 2007 after five complaints concerning Toyota’s 2007 Lexus ES350. Three involved crashes. That summer, the agency broadened its probe to include the 2007 Camry after one of those vehicles had gone speeding out of control in San Jose, killing the driver of another vehicle. According to the Post, a floor mat had appeared to be involved in that crash. At the same time, insurance statistics and consumer complaints were also showing a rise in unintended-acceleration events in Toyotas, something the NHTSA had been investigating on and off for several years.

According to an internal NHTSA memo, agency investigators eventually came to “believe that something about the throttle pedal or floorpan design lends itself to easier jamming than other models produced in the past.” According to the Post, they also believed the problem could also affect the Prius, Camry and Avalon, and could occur when either Toyota-made or after-market floor mats were present in a vehicle.

According to the Post, Toyota had a “game plan” for handling the inquiry and ignored the NHTSA’s findings. The automaker insisted that there was no danger if consumers correctly installed the proper Toyota floor mats; therefore, there were no defects and no grounds for a recall. In the end, the automaker would agree to recall only one kind of floor mat, affecting fewer than 55,000 cars, the Post said.

Two years later, in a presentation for Yoshimi Inaba, president of Toyota North America, the limited recall would be characterized as a “win” for the automaker. According to the Post, the presentation included the boast that by holding off a findings of a defect, Toyota had saved $100 million.

It wasn’t until this past fall, after the highly publicized death of a California Highway Patrolman and several members of his family that Toyota finally acknowledge accelerator pedals in floor pans in 12 different models would need to be fixed to prevent the floor mats from entrapping the accelerator. By then, a total of 20 more deaths had been attributed to unintended acceleration.

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