Waxman takes aim at Toyota

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has taken aim at Toyota.

Waxman late Thursday said he would hold a hearing next month to look at complaints about unintended accelerations in vehicles produced by Toyota.

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The announcement came after Toyota announced a huge recall involving millions of vehicles because of concerns about faulty gas pedals.

Waxman’s announcement was notable for mentioning the Toyota brand in the announcement of the hearing, instead of simply referring to faulty gas pedals.

It’s also notable because Waxman succeeded Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the U.S. auto industry’s staunchest backer, at the beginning of this Congress in an internal battle within the Democratic House caucus.

Waxman, a strong proponent of climate-change legislation, was seen as more willing than Dingell to get tough on U.S. automakers on climate change. Both lawmakers voted for the climate change bill approved by the House last summer.

Toyota’s recall affects vehicles in the U.S. as well as Europe and China and is a significant blow to a company that has passed General Motors to become the globe’s biggest-selling automaker.

In a statement, Waxman said he was concerned about the seriousness and scope of Toyota’s recall, and that he wanted to hear from the company on steps it had taken to address possible safety defects. Officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are also expected to testify.

He announced the hearing with Rep. Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

“Incidences of sticking accelerators have been ongoing with Toyota vehicles for up to a decade, and have led to a disproportionally high number of deaths,” Stupak said in a statement. “Failure to take every step possible to prevent future deaths or injury is simply unacceptable.”

Toyota said it appreciated the opportunity to inform the committee about matters related to the recall. "Helping ensure the safety of our customers and restoring confidence in Toyota are very important to our company and we pledge our full cooperation with the committee," Toyota said in a statement.  
 
Separately, in a letter to Toyota CEO Yoshimi Inaba, Waxman and Stupak wrote that a meeting with Toyota officials on Wednesday failed to answer all of their questions. They asked for more information from Toyota on all reports of deaths, injuries or property damage alleged or proven to have been caused by a sudden unintended acceleration of a Toyota.

The letter also asks for all internal communications, including e-mail, to or from senior corporate management that related to the decision this week to halt production and sale of eight Toyota models.

Waxman also wants timelines from Toyota going back to Jan. 1, 2000, on all complaints, warranty reports, field reports and reports of death, injury or property damage related to unintended acceleration of Toyota vehicles.

This story was updated at 2:44 p.m.

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