Toyota Used Ex-Regulators to Help Kill Probes

Toyota (TM) hired ex-government regulators to kill at least four investigations into problems with its cars in the U.S. That's the conclusion of an investigation by Bloomberg. The news service reports that, "Christopher Tinto, vice president of regulatory affairs in Toyota's Washington office, and Christopher Santucci, who works for Tinto, helped persuade the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to end probes including those of 2002-2003 Toyota Camrys and Solaras, court documents show. Both men joined Toyota directly from NHTSA, Tinto in 1994 and Santucci in 2003. "The report will certainly raise more questions about how Toyota has worked behind the scenes to influence Washington as the effects of its recall of eight of its most popular models, in addition to the Prius hybrid, grow. The media has expressed concerns that Toyota may have been aware of defects but did not begin recalls in a timely fashion. The No.1 car company could be fined for its tardiness and Congress is considering a number of investigations into Toyota's behavior and whether the firm should have been more aggressive about telling its customers of trouble with accelerator problems in many of its cars.

The growing reports of Toyota's efforts to dodge safety recalls and its handling of recalls over the last month will likely cause the car maker several more headaches. The first of these is that Congressional investigations into the firm's practices will become much more aggressive. The second is that consumers will wonder whether Toyota puts the safety of drivers ahead of its own finances and reputation. The third is that a growing number of lawsuits against the company may be bolstered by any confirmation that Toyota "covered up" its knowledge of mechanical trouble with some of its models, knowingly allowing customers to drive cars with potentially dangerous flaws.

Toyota has set aside $2 billion for the recall costs and lost sales from its accelerator recall. This does not include the expenses of repairing brake problems with certain 2010 Prius models. As government officials and class action attorneys examine the facts behind Toyota's handling of its knowledge of defects in its products, the company may find itself embroiled in investigations and law suits that could grow and stretch on for years.

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