After a recall affecting 9 million Toyota cars and trucks worldwide, the secretary of transportation today denied charges that his department had been asleep at the wheel, and said safety is the government's first priority.
"We have not been asleep at the switch when it comes to Toyota. There are three recalls going on right now, two of them as a result of our people either going to Japan or me on the telephone with the president of Toyota holding their feet to the fire on this," transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on "Good Morning America" today.
LaHood was responding to criticism from a former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Joan Claybrook, who accused the agency of being "lackadaisical" when it came to pursuing Toyota and said "they didn't look hard enough."
It was more bad news for Toyota Tuesday when it announced two recalls, one for a brake defect in approximately 7,300 Camrys from 2010 and the other for 437,000 Prius and Lexus 2010 hybrids.
Toyota CEO Akio Toyota said, "We will redouble our commitment to quality as a lifeline of our company with myself taking the lead" and promised "to gain the confidence of our customers."
ABC News' Investigative Unit reported that a former top lawyer for Toyota, Dimitrios Biller, said there was a "culture of hypocrisy and deception" at the company and accused officials in Tokyo of giving orders to hide evidence of defects that could be damaging to the company.
LaHood responded by saying his department is "staying on top of it."
"We talk to them every day, our investigations continue. They know we are watching them 24/7. And as I said, we are going to stay on top of this. We feel a strong obligation to the driving public, particularly those consumers who are driving Toyotas, to make sure that every car is safe, and we will not rest until that happens," LaHood told George Stephanopoulos this morning.
LaHood: We Are Holding Toyota's 'Feet to the Fire'The secretary also denied charges that people in his department are too cozy with automakers, instead saying they are holding Toyota's "feet to the fire" and will continue to do so.
"Our people went to Japan, our safety people went to Japan and met with the Toyota people and said, 'Look we've got some big issues here. We've done some investigations, and you need to fix your cars, whether it is the sticky petal or the floor mat issue,'" LaHood said.
In a congressional hearing last week, LaHood said owners of the recalled vehicles should "stop driving their cars and take them to their dealers." He later backtracked, saying that was a "misstatement" and instead encouraged owners to contact their local dealerships.
Today LaHood asked people to visit the DOT.gov Web site for a full list of the recalled cars.
"My message is that our safety people are holding Toyota's feet to the fire. We will make sure every car is safe," LaHood said.