There was plenty of passionate testimony at Tuesday's hearing on the problems Toyota automobiles have had with sudden unintended accelerations. We heard Rhonda Smith recall how she was unable to stop her car, calling her husband so she could hear his voice one last time. Toyota Motors USA President and COO James Lentz issued mea culpas of varying length and passion. Experts on safety and autos testified on how the acceleration problems may have occurred.
One member took issue with the last set of witnesses.
Rep Steve Buyer ,R-Ind., alleged that those witnesses, Sean Kean from Safety Research & Strategies Inc. and Professor David Gilbert, an associate professor of Automotive Technology at Southern Illinois University, were biased in their research. As evidence, Buyer noted that a report submitted by Kean had been "sponsored" by five attorneys. Those five lawyers all represent people that have claims pending against Toyota. Mr Kean paid Prof Gilbert to do diagnostic tests on Toyota automobiles, thus undermining the neutrality of their testimony.
Buyer even raised the specter of a 1992 NBC News "Dateline" report that rigged gas tanks on certain GMC trucks to explode in a low speed crash to highlight the dangers of "staging" studies.
Kean and Gilbert reaffirmed under oath that their testimony was true. Professor Gilbert said that his report did not require him to file his findings with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but said "the moment I discovered this (malfunction) I was sick to my stomach." He maintained that the payments he received from Kean to do research did not influence him in any way.
Additionally, Rep Buyer has his own conflicts of interest as well. A plant in his district helps to manufacture the Toyota Camry. He is also set to resign at the end of this term amid an ethics scandal.