Pressure mounts on Toyota amid recall

Pressure mounts on Toyota amid recall

Toyota and government transportation officials are slated this week for the first of likely many rounds of congressional investigations.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform is scheduled on Wednesday to begin looking into regulatory oversight of Toyota and problems at the carmaker that have led to the recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide.

Toyota has come under heavy scrutiny for problems that have caused vehicles to suddenly accelerate. The House panel will question the head of Toyota North America, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and David Strickland, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Toyota has already retained two additional Washington-based public relations and lobbying firms to help with congressional requests and hearings.

The carmaker in the last two weeks hired Democrat-heavy Glover Park Group for public-relations work. The carmaker has also hired the bipartisan firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates. The firm has been lobbying for Toyota since the start of the year but is now focused on issues related to the recall, said Ashley Prime Gula, a spokeswoman for Quinn Gillespie.

This week’s action in Congress will likely be only the beginning. Already, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has requested that transportation officials under the George W. Bush administration be called to testify.

“Evidence suggests that for nearly a decade, both Toyota and officials at the [NHTSA] were aware of complaints related to unintended acceleration,” Issa said in a letter on Monday.

Issa has requested that the committee hear from the last two heads of both the Transportation Department and NHTSA.

A congressional aide said the committee is still receiving documents and information requested and that staff will likely only begin reviewing it before the hearing on Wednesday.

An aide to committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) said the panel would decide its next steps at or after the hearing.

Meanwhile, the House Energy and Commerce Committee is beginning to examine documents and statements from Toyota and government officials.

Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) have called a hearing on Feb. 25. The committee is already looking into whether the carmaker’s public statements conflict with explanations Toyota gave to congressional staff on Jan. 27.

“We request that you clarify your statement about the role of sticking accelerator pedals in unintended acceleration of Toyota vehicles,” the congressmen wrote to the president of Toyota Motor Sales USA. “If Toyota now believes that sticking accelerator pedals are responsible for incidents of sudden, high-speed acceleration, we ask that you provide the committee with any new evidence.”

The lobbying trade association for automobile dealers said it is working with Toyota to make sure the faulty parts are replaced as quickly as possible.

“Dealers have been focused like a laser, performing these repairs as quickly as possible,” said Bailey Wood, a spokesman for the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA).

Jim Snyder contributed to this report.