The Japanese Government turned its guns on Toyota Tuesday as its Transport Minister hinted at a cover-up of safety issues at the carmaker that is under criminal investigation by the United States over the recall of millions of cars.
Seiji Maehara said that there was a high possibility that Toyota had not adequately shared information over possible defects with the authorities.He added that Toyota’s recognition of its responsibilities had been too "light."
Last night a federal grand jury in the U.S. issued a subpoena to force Toyota to give up documents relating to a crisis that has forced it to recall 8.5 million cars across the globe because of problems ranging from sticky accelerator pedals to defective brakes.
Problems with the vehicles are thought to have caused at least 30 road deaths, left the company facing potentially massive class-action lawsuits and forced it to undertake its most extensive recall program in automotive history.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has written to Jim Lentz, Toyota’s head of U.S. sales, accusing the company of making misleading public statements about recent recalls and saying that it had resisted the possibility that defects could cause sudden acceleration in its vehicles.
The company also faces a series of congressional hearings in the United States, where management will face questions about when the company realized that it had serious safety issues on its hands and whether it attempted to conceal those from regulators.
Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota and the grandson of the company’s founder, will appear before Congress Wednesday, after finally bowing to growing public pressure to appear.
Maehara's remarks follow the emergence of documents showing Toyota’s senior American management boasting over cost savings that arose from the company striking a deal with the U.S. authorities.
Through the deal in 2007, Toyota was able to get away with only a limited recall of 55,000 cars and save $100 million despite widening concerns of problems with the accelerators.
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An internal presentation, detailing the savings, was made at Toyota’s Washington office last July just a month before U.S. regulators began to link Toyota accelerator issues to more than a dozen deaths.
In September, a California highway patrol officer and his family were killed in an accident allegedly caused by a jammed accelerator pedal.
Both the Japanese and US authorities are under increasing pressure to justify their own response to early reports of “sticky” accelerator pedals.
Japan, which has so far conducted only a lackluster scrutiny of Toyota’s behavior, may now be forced to mount a high-profile investigation into the possibility of a cover-up.
The Japanese Government’s position has hardened only hours before what is expected to be Toyoda’s most agonizing day since becoming president of Toyota seven months ago.
He is expected to undergo a far more intensive examination than he has ever been subjected to at home.