Toyota ‘knew of gas pedal fault in 2007,’ but firm says problem this time different

TOKYO – Toyota Motor Corp., currently in the midst of a massive recall of vehicles in the United States, Europe and elsewhere over potentially faulty accelerators, was aware of a gas pedal flaw as early as the spring of 2007, according to industry sources.

Toyota, however, said Saturday the potential problem with the accelerator pedal in vehicles subject to the ongoing callback differs from a problem discovered in 2007 that caused sudden acceleration.

But industry sources have pointed out problems with a material used to make the pedal system both in 2007 and thereafter.

This raises questions about Toyota’s quality control system, the sources said. Had Toyota thoroughly dealt with the problem in its initial phase, the current large-scale recall could have been prevented, they said.

According to documents provided by Toyota to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the automaker received complaints about stuck gas pedals involving its Tundra model – a full-size pickup truck – in March 2007. The accelerator pedal mechanisms in a number of the pickups were sluggish in returning to the resting position after being depressed, Toyota told the motor vehicle safety agency.

Subsequent investigations by Toyota showed the accelerator problem was due to a friction lever at the base of the movable portion of the gas pedal, which Toyota said was prone to swell in high humidity.

In February 2008, the firm started using a different material to make the part, Toyota said.

Despite switching the pedal component material, Toyota did not recall the pickup trucks as the firm believed the gas pedal problem was something “affecting only the vehicle’s drivability, having nothing to do with safety,” the company said.

However, in December 2008 – following the switch to the new material – Toyota received complaints about Tundra trucks sold in Europe.

The firm launched a probe in March 2009, and detected a fault similar to the one in the vehicles presently being recalled. From mid-August, Toyota again changed the material used to make the gas pedal, adopting a material used in vehicles produced in Europe, it said.

The decision to embark on the recent recall, involving more than 7.6 million units across the world – including the 2007 model of Tundra trucks – was made after analyzing complaints filed with the company in the United States and Canada in and after October, Toyota said.