The Associated Press has just reported that Toyota is shipping pedals to its factories in North America, even though they will be shut down next week because of the recall of 2.3 million vehicles for pedal sticking problems. The list of affected vehicles includes current production Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, RAV4, Sequoia and Tundra models.
In a switch from its previous lethargic responses to allegations involving unintended acceleration and pedal sticking defects, Toyota Motor Sales immediately issued a carefully worded statement that says, among other things, “our highest priority is to fix the accelerator pedal problems for our existing customers, and our pedal supplier is starting to ship newly designed pedals to dealers to meet the most immediate needs.”
The statement comes after the Secretary of Transportation, who oversees the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in a radio interview with WGN in Chicago that NHTSA had demanded the stop sale and manufacturing halt that TMS announce earlier this week.
The Toyota statement did not actually deny that a company e-mail obtained by the AP said parts were still being shipped to the automaker’s plants. Nor did it deny that a spokesperson said Toyota had not sent parts to its dealers because it has yet to determine whether it will repair or replace the gas pedals on the 4.2 million Toyotas that have been recalled – thus far — worldwide.
The statement did say that “our pedal supplier is starting to ship newly designed pedals to dealers to meet the most immediate needs. One of the main reasons we are stopping production next week is to make more of the new pedals available to dealers right away. But at the same time, we are continuing to test effective pedal modifications for existing vehicles on the road that will be available to our customers quickly. We expect to announce a comprehensive remedy program for all affected customers and new vehicles soon.”
NHTSA says that five deaths and 17 injuries were the result of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles since 2006, but has yet to provide an explanation why the safety agency took no action until recently – if the situation is as dire as Secretary LaHood’s radio comments implied.
This sets the stage for a classic “cover your backside” political circus as the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled a February 4th hearing on what it titled, “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?”
The Oversight committee has asked Yoshi Inaba, chairman and CEO of Toyota Motor North America, to testify. It was not immediately clear if NHTSA would also be held to account by the politicians.
In the meantime, Toyota owners are left without a fix, or any date as to when one will occur, while the allegations and posturing continue.