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April 8, 2010

US: Toyota Canada, US officials, divided over accelerator details

Toyota Canada and the United States Transportation Department disagree about when the Canadian unit was first told to repair pedals on several models to avoid unintended acceleration, according to a US newspaper report.

Toyota Canada and the United States Transportation Department disagree about when the Canadian unit was first told to repair pedals on several models to avoid unintended acceleration, according to a US report.

On Monday, transportation secretary Ray LaHood said the US government would seek a US$16.4m fine against Toyota for failing to promptly notify it about accelerator pedal problems, the New York Times noted in its Automobiles blog.

The company did not recall vehicles in the United States because of accelerator problems until January. But LaHood said that repair procedures sent by Toyota to its Canadian operation as well as to distributors in 31 European countries last 29 September showed that the company knew about the issue much earlier. LaHood said those procedures were intended to address complaints that accelerator pedals could stick, causing engines to surge and vehicles to rapidly gain uncontrolled speed.

However, Toyota recalled an initial 3.8m vehicles in the United States in November for floor mats, a month after the Canadian action, the Times said.

Toyota Canada spokeswoman Sandy Di Felice disputed at least the Canadian portion of LaHood’s remarks, according to the paper.

“This statement is incorrect,” she wrote in an e-mail message. “Toyota Canada was not a party to that communication.”

An official at the Transportation Department reportedly acknowledged that Toyota Canada was not circulated on the 29 September document. But, the official said in an e-mail message, “a communication that Toyota sent a few days later (7 October) initiated the same repair procedure at a manufacturing facility in Canada. This repair procedure is the same that was implemented in Europe.”

The official added, “Everything we have is based on the information Toyota supplied to us, and it seems like they are parsing words a little bit here.”

According to the newspaper, Transport Canada did issue a recall on 7 October, covering 378,294 Toyota and Lexus vehicles, saying unsecured or incompatible floor mats could cause accelerators to stick and indicated that dealers would “reconfigure the shape of the accelerator pedal.”

Some models, the notice said, “will also have the shape of the floor underneath the accelerator pedal modified and/or a brake override system installed.”

But Di Felice told the New York Times floor mat problems were not connected to the unintended acceleration issues discussed by LaHood.

The Transportation Department official said that the October directions were eventually withdrawn by Toyota only to be reinstated in December.

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