Toyota to recall 600,000 Sienna minivans

WASHINGTON (AP) - Toyota Motor Corp. said Friday it was
recalling 600,000 Sienna minivans sold in the United States to
address potential rusting spare tire cables that could break and
create a road hazard in the latest safety problem to strike the
beleaguered automaker.
The recall came as House investigators said they planned to hold
another congressional hearing in May to review potential electronic
problems in runaway Toyotas. The Japanese automaker has recalled
more than 8 million vehicles because of faulty accelerator pedals,
humbling a car company long known for its quality and safety.
Company leaders vowed to respond quickly to the safety concerns.
Separately, Toyota said Friday its engineers in Japan had
duplicated the same results of tests that led Consumer Reports to
issue a rare "don't buy" warning on the 2010 Lexus GX 460 over
rollover concerns. Toyota responded by halting sales of new GX 460s
and conducting tests on all of its SUVs.
Lexus spokesman Bill Kwong said the company was evaluating
potential remedies for the GX 460 but it was "too early to
speculate (on) the details of the remedy and its timing."
Toyota said its latest recall covered the 1998-2010 model year
Siennas with two-wheel-drive that have been sold or registered in
20 cold-climate states and the District of Columbia. Toyota said
rust from road salt could cause the carrier cable that holds the
spare tire to rust and break, allowing the tire to tumble into the
road. The problem could threaten the safety of other drivers.
Toyota said it was unaware of any accidents or injuries. The
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received
six complaints of spare tires falling off Siennas.
The company said it was working on a fix for the problem. In the
meantime, customers will receive a notice telling them to bring
their vehicle to a dealership for an inspection.
The recall involves Siennas in the District of Columbia and the
following states: Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana,
Kentucky, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New
Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,
Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin and West Virginia.
"Toyota is listening to its customers attentively, and we want
to make sure their voices are heard," said Steve St. Angelo,
Toyota's chief quality officer for North America.
St. Angelo said the company was providing free inspections of
the spare tire carrier cable across the nation, including states
not included in the recall. Owners can call (800) 331-4331 for more
information about the recall.
Lawmakers remain focused on the spate of recalls affecting the
company. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Energy
and Commerce Committee, and Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., a
subcommittee chairman, said they plan to hold a May 6 hearing to
look into potential electronic causes of sudden acceleration in
Toyota vehicles.
Toyota has said it has found no evidence of electronic problems,
attributing the issues to sticking gas pedals and accelerators that
can become jammed in floor mats.
Toyota said in a statement Friday it was "more than willing to
meet with the committee and discuss the ongoing testing related to
our electronic throttle control system, as well as the steps we are
taking to improve our quality assurance processes. Nothing is more
important to us than the safety and reliability of the vehicles our
customers drive."
The Transportation Department has fined the company $16.4
million for failing to promptly notify the government about
defective gas pedals among its vehicles. Toyota has until Monday to
agree to the penalty or contest it. The fine is the largest civil
penalty ever issued to an automaker by the government.
Transportation officials have not ruled out additional fines.
The department is reviewing whether Toyota delayed for six weeks
the late January recall of the 2009-2010 Venza in the United States
to address floor mats that could entrap the accelerator pedal after
making a similar recall in Canada.
Toyota recalled the Venza in Canada in December and reported to
the U.S. government on Dec. 16 that the floor mats could move
forward while the vehicle is in use and "may interfere with the
accelerator pedal." Toyota told U.S. authorities at the time that
the floor mats in question were not imported into the U.S. but the
Venza was added to the floor mat recall in late January.
Automakers are required to notify the U.S. government within
five business days when they find a potential safety defect.
Waxman and Stupak, meanwhile, have asked Toyota and outside
consulting firm Exponent Inc. to provide documents detailing a
review of possible electronic problems in its vehicles. Exponent,
which was hired by Toyota, said in an interim report it could find
no evidence that electronic malfunctions had caused sudden
unintended acceleration.
Committee investigators said in February that the Exponent
testing was flawed because it studied only a small number of Toyota
vehicles and consumer groups have said electronics could be the
cause of the acceleration problems. Reviews of some high-profile
crashes in San Diego and suburban New York have failed to find
either mechanical or electronic problems.
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(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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