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Last Updated: February 21. 2010 5:20PM

Toyota said it saved more than $100M in '07 recall

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- Toyota Motor Corp. officials bragged last July about avoiding a costly whole-scale recall of sudden acceleration complaints, a document turned over to congressional investigators shows.

A limited recall saved the Japanese automaker, whose executives will be grilled by congressional committees starting on Tuesday, more than $100 million, according to the presentation obtained by The Detroit News on Sunday.

The document, an internal presentation from the company's Washington office, raises serious new questions about the company's handling of safety issues. It was among the papers and records turned over to Congress as part of its demand for information on recent recalls and safety actions.

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has obtained more than 50,000 Toyota documents ahead of a Wednesday hearing at which Toyota President Akio Toyoda is to be questioned.

The document acknowledges Toyota was still studying the issue of "sudden acceleration on ES/Camry, Tacoma, LS, etc.," but notes that Toyota's safety officials had saved the company significant expense by limiting the recall to 55,000 floor mats in 2007.

"Negotiated 'equipment' recall on Camry/ES re SA (Sudden Acceleration); saved $100M+, w/ no defect found," the document said.

Within a month of a crash last August, in which a California Highway Patrol officer and three others died in an accident attributed to unintended acceleration when the accelerator pedal got stuck in the floor mat, Toyota agreed to a massive recall that ultimately included a mechanical fix -- shortening and replacing accelerator pedals, replacing millions of floor mats, adding foam underneath some pedals and adding brake override systems.

That recall has now grown to nearly 5.4 million vehicles in the United States. Toyota has issued a separate recall for 2.3 million sticky pedals, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles, alleging at least 34 deaths.

Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss and the Transportation Department didn't offer any immediate comment on the document.

Toyota has said the recalls and lost sales will cost it up to $2 billion.

The July 6, 10-page presentation obtained by The Detroit News lists the name of Toyota's North American chief, Yoshi Inaba, on the first page and it appears to be a briefing for him on the office's work on several fronts.

In a section titled "Wins for Toyota & Industry," it lists "favorable recall outcomes" and "secured safety rulemaking favorable to Toyota."

Among them, Toyota officials note in the presentation that the delay they sought in side airbag requirements saved Toyota $124 million and 50,000 man-hours.

Another delayed regulation on door locks saved Toyota $11 million in added costs to the Sienna, the presentation says.

The automaker's presentation also said it had avoided a "defect" finding on its Sienna rear hatch complaints.

Toyota's presentation said it had avoided an investigation on Tacoma "rust."

In 2008, Toyota agreed to buy back 1995-2000 model Tacoma pickups that were beyond repair over rust issues, and to inspect 2001-2004 Tacoma pickups. It extended warranties on more than 1.4 million pickups -- but apparently avoided a serious NHTSA investigation that could have forced a more expensive solution.

After Toyota's safety issues received more scrutiny, the company agreed in November 2009 to recall 110,000 Toyota Tundra pickups in cold weather states over rust issues.

"There are significant questions regarding the interactions between Toyota Japan, Toyota North America and government regulators," said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ranking member of the House Oversight panel. Was Toyota "lobbying for less rigid actions from regulators to protect their bottom-line?" he asked.

dshepardson@detnews.com (202) 662-8735

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