The federal government’s role in the Toyota recall crisis continues to grow, with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood urging Toyota owners to “stop driving” their cars until the accelerator can be fixed by their local dealer. LaHood spoke this morning at a congressional panel hearing. “We need to fix the problem so people don’t have to worry about disengaging the engine or slamming the brakes on or put it in neutral," LaHood said in response to questions, according to the New York Times.
UPDATE: The New York Times now reports that LaHood backed away from his off-the-cuff remarks after the hearing, saying: “What I said in there was obviously a misstatement.” In a statement issued by the Department of Transportation, LaHood said: “I want to encourage owners of any recalled Toyota models to contact their local dealer and get their vehicles fixed as soon as possible.”
Action was happening in other areas as well:
- According to federal law, Toyota faces up to $16.4 million in fines per recall, the Detroit News reports. That being said, it’s rare for that large of a fine to be levied; the newspaper reports that the largest fine levied was for $1 million, against GM in 2004.
- Two lawmakers are demanding that Toyota explain discrepancies between their public statements made this week and statements that the automaker had made to a congressional committee late last month. According to a letter from U.S. Reps. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) and Harry Waxman (D-Calif.) of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Toyota told the committee "that sticking accelerator pedals are unlikely to be responsible for the sensational stories of drivers losing control over acceleration as their cars race to 60 miles per hour or higher." But the committee noted that Jim Lentz, president/CEO at Toyota Motor Sales USA, said Monday on NBC's “Today” show that Toyota believed the sticky pedals were responsible for some of the incidents, along with pedals trapped under floormats. A hearing is planned for Feb. 25.
- There also remain questions about Toyota’s onboard computers and what role, if any, they played in unintended acceleration. According to the New York Times, lawyers, safety advocates and consumers continue to raise questions about the cars’ electronic systems, which they say could cause a car’s throttle to stick. Toyota faces 11 class-action lawsuits over accidents involving the defect.
- Honda execs say they’re worried that the negative press around Toyota might hurt the image of all Japanese auto manufacturers. According to Reuters, "Toyota is the front-runner representing Japanese cars," Honda Executive Vice President Koichi Kondo told reporters. "In that sense, we're somewhat worried that there may be a knock-on effect on other Japanese brands, but we'll need a little more time to gauge any impact."