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Toyota has been accusedby a U.S. House of Representatives committee with misleading thepublic and investigators over its recentrecalls.

The accusations, in a statement from the House Energy andCommerce Committee, claim that Toyota both relied on a flawed studyin its assessment of the issue of sticking accelerator pedals atthe heart of the recalls, and then made misleading statements aboutits response. According to the authors of the letter, Henry Waxman andBart Stupak, Toyotadismissed, rather than investigated, the idea that the cars’computers were at fault. In a statement, James Lentz, the presidentof Toyota’s American division, claimed that hardware issues were toblame, and that dealers were repairing the faulty part. Toyota alsoreleased a study commissioned from the research firm Exponent thatsaid electronic systems were not to blame.

According to the House committee, however, the study involvedonly six vehicles, none of which had problems with their electricalsystems, and was insufficient to produce an accurate result. “Ourpreliminary assessment is that Toyota resisted the possibility thatelectronic defects could cause safety concerns, relied on a flawedengineering report and made misleading public statements concerningthe adequacy of recent recalls to address the risk of suddenunintended acceleration.”

The company is under a criminal investigation, and has receivedtwo subpoenas for documents from two House committees relating tothe recalls, although whether they are directly related to theletter is unclear. The documents are related to accelerator issuesin several models, as well as brake problems with the Prius hybridcar, and were served earlier in in February by a federal grand juryand the Securitiesand Exchange Commission. Toyota has released upwards of 75,000pages of documents under the requests.

In a separate, though related, development, it has emerged thatToyota last year negotiated a limited recall for two models, theToyota Camry andLexus ES, that wereaffected by the accelerator recalls, saving the company anestimated $100 million. A confidential internal presentation inJuly 2009 made the claim, and a month later, a Lexus ES, one of themodels under the limited recall crashed in California, killing fourpeople. The claims apparently referenced a September, 2007 recallof floor mats that could trap gas pedals, the same problem thattriggered a full recall of numerous Toyota cars to fix the sameproblem. In the same presentation, the company claimed to haveavoided recalls of another model related to rust, as well asdelaying new federal safety regulations.

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