At a third Toyota hearing, held by a Senate committee yesterday, NHTSA administrator David Strickland defended the agency's past investigations of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, and strongly disputed assertions that Toyota was able to influence NHTSA to provide favorable terms on recalls.
Strickland said that NHTSA did open investigations into the Camry complaints during the Bush administration, but was unable to find a vehicle defect.
"The investigators did a full investigation top to bottom, regardless of any type of rationale or cause for sudden acceleration and they were not able to find a defect," said Strickland. "If we cannot find a defect, we cannot go forward, we will lose a case in court."
Tuesday's hearing was in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, where Strickland worked for eight years as a staffer and Senior Counsel and where he was "lead staff person for the oversight of NHTSA," according to the agency's web site.
Despite his close ties to committee members, Strickland was sharply criticized over his defense of NHTSA's past performance on the Toyota sudden acceleration issue.
Committee chair Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D.-W.Va., called the previous investigations a "major letdown on NHTSA's part and the record clearly shows you stayed away."
Rockefeller said the past investigations showed a reluctance by the agency to properly look into vehicle electronics.
"They understand floor mats, they don't understand microchips," said Rockefeller.