A Times investigation shows the world’s largest automaker has delayed recalls and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects. During a routine test on its Sienna minivan in April 2003, Toyota Motor Corp. engineers discovered that a plastic panel could come loose and cause the gas pedal to stick, potentially making the vehicle accelerate out of control.
The automaker redesigned the part and by that June every 2004 model year Sienna off the assembly line came with the new panel. Toyota did not notify tens of thousands of people who had already bought vans with the old panel, however.
It wasn’t until U.S. safety officials opened an investigation last year that Toyota acknowledged in a letter to regulators that the part could come loose and “lead to unwanted or sudden acceleration.”
In January, nearly six years after discovering the potential hazard, the automaker recalled 26,501 vans made with the old panel.
In a statement to The Times, Toyota said that there was no defect in the Sienna and that “a safety recall was not deemed necessary” when it discovered the problem in 2003. The company called the replacement part “an additional safety measure.”
A peerless reputation for quality and safety has helped Toyota become the world’s largest automaker. But even as its sales have soared, the company has delayed recalls, kept a tight lid on disclosure of potential problems and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects.
One case I blogged about previously said a Prius accelerated out of control during a test drive and the dealer’s explanation was that sometimes people install non-factory floor mats.