Now there is more proof than ever that Toyota knew full well that it had problems with unintended acceleration long before it informed the public or took any action to fix sticking accelerators.
Since the massive recall, Toyota has turned more than 70,000 pages of company documents over to federal investigators. Among other things, they revealed that:
Irv Miller, Toyota’s then-group vice president for environment and public affairs, warned his colleagues in an e-mail on Jan. 16, 2010: "We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over. We need to come clean."
In a memo earlier that day, Katsuhiko Koganei, executive coordinator for corporate communications at Toyota Motor Sales USA, suggested the company should not discuss mechanical failures in accelerator pedals…“because we have not clarified the real cause of the sticking acc pedal formally, and the remedy for the matter has not been confirmed."
Koganei added that Toyota executives were concerned that news of the mechanical failures "might raise another uneasiness of customers."
Koganei’s e-mail prompted a strongly worded response from Miller. "Kogi, I hate to break this to you but WE HAVE A tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals of a certain manufacturer on certain models," Miller wrote, adding his concerns about customer safety. –AP
Five days after this email was sent, Toyota finally announced its recall of 2.3 million vehicles, including the Camry and the Corolla, for sticking accelerators.
Toyota also knew of problems with the Prius braking system long before it issued a recall in February 2010—possibly as early as summer 2009. But instead of notifying the public, Toyota deliberately kept its customers in the dark for months about potential hazards and let people die in crashes that could have been prevented with a modicum of honesty, transparency and decency.
The NHTSA has fined Toyota $16.4 million—the largest fine possible—but this is nothing for a company of Toyota’s size and power. As long as the NHTSA can’t legally impose criminal penalties on executives like the ones who covered up Toyota’s dangerous acceleration and braking problems, lawsuits are the only way to make companies like Toyota take responsibility for the needless harms they cause.