The pressure on Toyota Motor Corp. intensified as the company disclosed subpoenas from a federal grand jury and the Securities and Exchange Commission related to sudden acceleration in its cars, while the leaders of a congressional panel accused Toyota of misleading the public about safety problems.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee, in an 11-page letter, previewed issues its members likely will raise at a hearing Tuesday. The letter criticized Toyota for resisting the possibility that electronic defects could be responsible for the reports of unintended acceleration.
The committee also sent a separate letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood raising concerns that federal safety regulators “lack the expertise needed to evaluate defects in vehicle electronic controls.”
The Toyota controversy has become the biggest auto-safety uproar since the Ford-Firestone recalls of 2001. In that case, involving hundreds of accidents linked to faulty Firestone tires mounted on Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicles, the chief executives of Ford Motor Co. and Bridgestone Corp.’s U.S. operations clashed in congressional hearings that ultimately led to the passage of new safety laws.
Toyota’s disclosure of a grand-jury probe raises the threat of criminal liability, although the company as yet faces no charges.
Toyota said the subpoena was issued Feb. 8 by a federal grand jury in New York. The company said that on Feb. 19 it received a voluntary request and a subpoena from the Los Angeles office of the SEC seeking documents related to sudden acceleration and the company’s disclosure policies and practices.
Federal regulators also will come in for tough questions this week. In the letter to Mr. LaHood, Messrs. Waxman and Stupak said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s response to complaints of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles “appears to have been seriously deficient.”
The committee said NHTSA, part of the Transportation Department, “has conducted only cursory and ineffective investigations” into sudden acceleration.
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