In a letter to Congress, Toyota strongly denied any "problems with the electronics of its vehicles" and said an outside engineering firm had cleared its electronic throttle control system of any problems and that the system "performed as designed."
Toyota's letter was in response to an inquiry by Reps. Edolphus Towns and Darrell Issa of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has scheduled a Feb. 24 hearing that will look into the sudden acceleration problems that have plagued Toyota and led to huge recalls of its vehicles.
In the letter, Toyota revealed that it had retained an outside engineering firm called Exponent to examine its vehicles for sudden acceleration problems and that testing did not show any problems despite "concerted efforts to induce unwanted acceleration." Toyota also said its electronic throttle control has a "fail safe" system that would shut off or slow down the throttle "in the event of a system failure."
Toyota has initiated huge recalls of its vehicles, stating that either entrapped floor mats or sticky gas pedals are responsible for any cases of sudden acceleration. However, safety experts have suggested that there could be a problem or glitch with the vehicles' electronic computer which controls acceleration.
Toyota also responded to an inquiry over 100 complaints of sudden acceleration by Toyota Tacoma owners since 2007, and why many of the cases could not be attributed to either floor mats or sticky gas pedals.
While acknowledging that the complaint rate for the Tacoma since 2005 was "higher than on most other Toyota models," Toyota said there was no "vehicle-based cause for the customer complaints." Instead the company blamed factors such as "engine idle speed" issues and "cruise control downshifting behavior."
The letter to Reps. Towns and Issa was signed not by a Toyota official, but by an attorney, Theodore Hester of the Washington, D.C., law firm King & Spalding. According to the firm's Web site, Hester specializes in "representing clients in oversight investigations and hearings being conducted by congressional committees."
Rep. Issa, R.-Calif., ranking minority member of the Oversight Committee, said Wednesday that he would ask Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda to meet with Congress and will request that committee chairman Towns, D.-N.Y., also invite Toyoda to the Feb. 24 hearing.
In a statement, Issa said the requested meeting was due to "the number of outstanding questions surrounding Toyota's relationship with U.S. regulators."
"I would think that Mr. Toyoda would be receptive to the opportunity to meet with policymakers and there certainly is widespread interest from Capitol Hill and the American people to hear directly from him," Issa said.
On Thursday, a Japanese news agency reported that Toyoda had delayed a planned trip to the U.S. until early March, which would be after the hearing. The report said that Toyoda would visit Washington and meet with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other government officials.
After Toyoda changed his plans, Issa said he was willing to issue a subpoena to compel Toyoda to appear before his committee.
"If we are not receiving the cooperation and transparency this Committee and the American people are demanding from Toyota, I would fully support the issuance of a subpoena," said Issa. "Whether it is for a microprocessor engineer or the top executive, we have a duty to determine what Toyota knew, when they knew it and if they met their full obligation of disclosure to U.S. regulators and the American people."
In a letter from Issa to Toyoda Thursday, the congressman noted the report that Toyoda had delayed his trip, and suggested he change the timing to coincide with the committee hearing on Feb. 24th.
"I would encourage you to consider moving up that timeline to coincide with the Congressional hearings that have been scheduled for the week of February 22nd," wrote Rep. Issa. "Surely, if Congress can be here, so can you and I have no doubt that you are eager to take advantage of the earliest opportunity possible to meet with lawmakers and have an open, candid and transparent dialogue with us, as well as the American people."
Why Did Toyota Wait to Inform Customers?
Issa also said in a statement that if Toyoda delayed his trip the committee should consider scheduling a follow-up hearing that would include Toyoda "as well as Bush Administration officials, former Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters, and former Administrators of the National Highway and Transportation Safety Administration, Nicole Nason, and David Kelly."
Earlier this week, Toyoda said he was now personally taking charge of his company's recall situation and promised to visit the U.S. soon "to explain the conditions and the situation to those people."
"Let me assure everyone," Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, said from the company's global headquarters, "that we will re-double our commitment to quality as a lifeline of our company with myself taking the lead."
U.S. and Congressional investigators want to know why the Japanese car company waited at least a month to inform its customers and government agencies of the braking problem, well after it had introduced a fix to the software in cars being manufactured.
The Toyota CEO told reporters he "did not recall the exact month and day" when the company first learned of the brake problem with the Prius. "I consistently receive all sorts of information," he said. "If you ask when, the answer is this year."
When asked by ABC News if any Toyota officials would be held responsible for the global recall Toyoda said, "In regards to responsibility, Toyota's responsibility is that we have to truly cooperate together to regain the trust of our customers."
"I don't personally believe Toyota is failure proof," Toyoda said as translated. "But when we receive inquires or reports from customers we make sure that all of those things are corrected and modified, (we) implement improvement so that we can provide better products for our customers. We have done that in the past and we will continue to do so in the future as well."
"We will do everything in our power," Toyoda said in English, "to gain the confidence of our customers."