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Toyota Workers Were Worried About Safety Problems in 2006

Mar 10, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

According to a report in The Los Angeles Times, there had been various warnings over the years about safety problems at Toyota.  Some of those warnings came from veteran Toyota workers in Japan.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the six workers had watched the company take what they believed were dangerous safety and manpower shortcuts to lower costs and boost production. In  a 2006 memo, they pointed out that Toyota had recalled more than 5 million cars — 36 percent of all sold vehicles, a rate higher than other companies. Their memo warned that failure to act could “become a great problem that involves the company’s survival.”  They detailed these concerns even though they were worried doing so could cost them their jobs.

They presented their memo to Toyota management, but never received a response, the Times said.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, one of the workers involved with the 2006 memo outlined his concerns. Tadao Wakatsuki, 62, a veteran assembly line worker who formed the All Toyota Labor Union, said that outsourcing key design work and shortening the trial-and-error period for new cars were particularly worrisome.

Warnings came from others as well. Japanese automobile consumer advocate Fumio Matsuda told the Los Angeles Times that Toyota’s business practices “were the most secretive of all.” According to Matsuda, Toyota sponsored “secret recalls,” asking owners to visit dealers for vehicle checkups, a ploy that allowed them to replace defective parts and then charge the owner for the work.

In recent months, Toyota's safety problems have become all too public.   Since September, Toyota has recalled nearly 8 million vehicles worldwide for issues involving unintended acceleration.  Toyota has blamed the problems on faulty floor mats and defective accelerator pedals, but some believe a problem with the vehicles’ electronic throttle control system is behind the problems.  Recently, dozens of Toyota owners have complained that accelerator pedal fixes done as part of the recalls weren't working.

Matsuda told the Los Angeles Times that  he believed that Toyota also knew of defects involved in the most recent recalls long before going public. He told the Los Angeles Times that he believed criminal charges will ultimately be filed relating to recent recalls.

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