Reporting from Los Angeles and Washington — With Toyota Motor Corp. executives continuing to say that electronics problems are not causing sudden acceleration in their company's vehicles, two top lawmakers Friday demanded to see the proof.
House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), head of the panel's investigations subcommittee, formally requested results from internal tests that Toyota has said rule out the electronic throttle control system as the source of the runaway acceleration.
They also asked the company that employees with "personal knowledge" of the testing be made available for congressional interviews.
"We do not understand the basis for Toyota's repeated assertions that it is 'confident' there are no electronic defects contributing to incidents of sudden unintended acceleration," Waxman and Stupak wrote to James E. Lentz, the company's top U.S. sales executive.
The request came after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrationreleased data Thursday showing that more than 60 people have complained of sudden acceleration incidents in vehicles that have been repaired by Toyota as part of the recalls to address the problem.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and the panel's top Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), each wrote Friday to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland asking how the agency was addressing the new complaints. Towns also asked what NHTSA was doing to ensure that all causes of sudden acceleration in Toyotas were being investigated.
NHTSA, which has been reviewing Toyota's electronics as a possible cause, had said Thursday that it was contacting each person who filed a new complaint.
Waxman and Stupak said documents provided to their committee in response to a request last month "did not provide convincing substantiation" that electronics were not at fault. Additional documents Toyota sent to the committee, some of which were written in Japanese, failed to show that "a rigorous study had taken place."
Waxman and Stupak also dismissed preliminary findings from a report on sudden acceleration, conducted by an outside firm, as having "serious deficiencies."
The report by Exponent Inc., a Menlo Park, Calif., engineering firm, indicated no problems with Toyota's electronics.
Toyota acknowledged receipt of the committee's inquiry Friday and said it would cooperate.
Lentz told Waxman's committee during a hearing last week that the recalls of vehicles for problems with floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals might "not totally" solve the problem of sudden acceleration. But Toyota quickly tried to clarify those comments. A news release by the company the next day said extensive testing had made the company confident that there were no problems with the electronic throttle control system.
Other top Toyota executives, including President Akio Toyoda, said at subsequent congressional hearings that they were confident that there were no electronics problems in Toyota vehicles.
"It may be that Toyota has done 'extensive' and 'very rigorous' testing of its vehicles for electronic defects. But if so, the results of this testing should have been provided to the committee," Waxman and Stupak wrote to Lentz. "Despite our repeated requests, the record before the committee is most notable for what is missing: the absence of documents showing that Toyota has systematically investigated the possibility of electronic defects that could cause sudden unintended acceleration."
Waxman and Stupak asked for the findings from Toyota's testing and for the company to identify its officials with "personal knowledge" of the testing so they can be interviewed by committee staff. They also requested that the company provide the committee with quarterly reports throughout this year detailing any complaints about sudden acceleration.
Toyota said it would provide the committee with a report supporting the findings by Exponent, as well as results of its own testing disputing the findings of David Gilbert, a professor of automotive technology at Southern Illinois University. Gilbert told Waxman's committee last week that he had been able to "defeat" a key safety feature of Toyota's electronic throttle control system.
The Japanese automaker said that its own evaluation and Exponent's assessment of Gilbert's method of triggering unintended acceleration "requires rewiring and artificially manipulating a vehicle's electrical system" and can be reproduced on vehicles from other manufacturers.
Toyota said it reported the findings to the congressional committees probing its safety defects and to Gilbert.
"Toyota has offered to demonstrate the results of our further research and welcome committee representatives to observe those demonstrations," the company said.
The automaker also said it is "quickly investigating verifiable complaints of unintended acceleration, and we are doing everything we can to ensure that our customers are confident in their vehicles and the remedies."