Two congressmen issued a strong statement Tuesday afternoon suggesting that recent statements by Toyota's top U.S. executive to the public about the causes of random acceleration were misleading, and that in private Toyota officials had said that sticky gas pedals were not the cause of the most serious acceleration incidents.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D.-Calif., and Rep. Bart Stupak, D.-Mich., questioned public claims made earlier this week by James Lentz, Toyota's U.S. president, that sudden acceleration was due to "two different issues," sticky gas pedals and poorly fitting floor mats, and that the company was "confident" that fixing those two problems would stop runaway Toyota incidents. Waxman and Stupak demanded answers from Lentz by the end of the week.
Waxman, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Stupak, chair of the Investigations Subcommittee, said that during a January 27, 2010 meeting with committee staff, Toyota executives said sticky gas pedals were probably not the cause of the more extreme incidents of acceleration, and that the actual causes of random acceleration were hard to pinpoint.
"Your public statements are different than the representations that Toyota officials made on January 27, 2010," Waxman and Stupak wrote in their letter. "When Committee staff inquired whether Toyota could be certain that floor mat entrapment and sticking accelerator pedals fully explained reports of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, the Toyota officials present responded that causes of unintended acceleration are 'very, very hard to identify."
"Furthermore," continued the letter, "Toyota officials indicated that sticking accelerator pedals are unlikely to be responsible for the sensational stories of drivers losing control over acceleration as their cars race to 60 miles per hour or higher. The officials said that condensation build-up in a 'sticky pedal' can cause the accelerator to become lodged in a slightly depressed position, but they said that this would not lead to full-throttle acceleration.
"The Toyota officials did tell the Committee staff that accelerator pedals entrapped by all-weather floor mats could cause high-speed acceleration. There are, however, well-publicized, high-speed unintended acceleration events in Toyota vehicles that do not appear to have been caused by all-weather floor mats."
Waxman and Stupak requested that Lentz clarify his public statement about sticky gas pedals, and explain whether Toyota's position on the role of gas pedals had changed between January 27 and February 2. They also asked that Toyota provide evidence to their committee that sticky gas pedals were causing sudden high-speed acceleration, and for Lentz's public claims that electronics were not to blame for the acceleration problems.
In addition, the congressmen questioned the timeline offered by Lentz in his public appearances this week. Lentz said in two different interviews that Toyota became aware of sticky pedals in October 2009. According to Stupak and Waxman, Toyota officials said last week that the company learned of the problem through reports of sticky pedals in England and Ireland in April or May 2009.
Waxman and Stupak asked that Lentz provide documents and evidence to support his public claims by this Friday, February 5.