Congressional Panel Roughs Up Toyota over Recalls, Electronics -- and There's More to Come

Last Updated May 21, 2010 4:14 PM EDT

Toyota (TM) had a rough day yesterday on Capitol Hill. And odds are good that it won't be its last battering at the hands of Congress.

James Lentz, president and COO of Toyota's U.S. unit, must have known he was in for a bad time right from the get-go in a hearing conducted by the House Energy & Commerce Committee's oversight subcommittee.

An opening statement submitted by committee chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) pretty much accused Toyota of being, shall we say, less than candid about a Toyota investigation whether electronic glitches could have caused the Toyota unintended acceleration phenomenon.

Waxman was cutting in the May 20 hearing statement, calling it "a rare moment of corporate candor," when Lentz said in a February hearing that he was "not totally" sure that replacing floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals would solve Toyota's problem.

Waxman could have filled a thesaurus with ways to characterize Toyota's conduct and what the committee found in its own investigation. Among them were "baffling," "deeply troubling," "astonishing," and "preposterous."

Waxman said that what he finds so hard to believe is that Toyota is doing, "everything it can to figure out what is causing these frightening events, not to protect itself from lawsuits. I do not believe Toyota has met this obligation," Waxman said.

Actually, Toyota is doing everything it can, Lentz said in prepared testimony.

"Toyota remains confident that our electronic throttle control system is not a cause of unintended acceleration," he said. "Toyota has never discovered or been provided with any evidence that the ETCS-i can cause unintended acceleration in a real world scenario," Lentz said.

"Nonetheless, we are making a major scientific effort to further validate the safety of our vehicles by opening up our technology to an unprecedented level of independent review," he said. Lentz said Toyota has created a new North America Quality Advisory Panel headed by a former secretary of transportation, Rodney Slater.

Judging by the 2010 Motor Vehicle Safety Bill under consideration over at the U.S. Senate, the House isn't going to be done with Toyota until Congress passes legislation to make it less likely anything like this can happen again, at Toyota or any other car company.

Photo: Toyota