Transportation Secretary LaHood & Toyota's Lentz Defend Themselves To Congress

Both Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Toyota U.S. President James Lentz are scheduled to appear before the House Committee on Energy & Commerce this morning, but in prepared remarks released before the hearing, these two fine chaps attempt to shrug off many of the accusations hurled at both sides of the Toyota recall debacle.

Yesterday, the Committee’s leadership sent scathing letters to both LaHood and Lentz. In dressing down LaHood, Congress alleged that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was both ill-equipped and unresponsive in recent dealings with Toyota. Meanwhile, they lashed out at Lentz for Toyota’s disregard of warning signs.

Not surprisingly, both men see it differently.

“By engaging Toyota directly, and persuading the company to take action, the agency avoided a lengthy investigation that would have delayed fixes,” said LaHood said in his prepared testimony.

“If NHTSA had opened a formal investigation and Toyota had resisted a recall, this would have consumed an enormous amount of time and resources, in effect extending the period in which owners of affected vehicles were at risk,” he tried to explain about the agency’s decisions to close the books on at least four previous investigations into possible sudden acceleration problems in Toyotas.

Added LaHood, “The Toyota recall situation is very serious and we are treating it seriously.”

As for Lentz, he did admit that the recall of over 8 million Toyotas could possibly have happened a little sooner than it did.

“It has taken us too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues,” Lentz said in his prepared testimony. “The problem has also been compounded by poor communications both within our company and with regulators and consumers.”

He did however stick to denying reports of a problem with the throttles in his company’s current fleet of vehicles.

“We are confident that no problems exist with the electronic throttle control system in our vehicles,” Lentz said in his prepared testimony. “We have done extensive testing of this system and have never found a malfunction that cause unintended acceleration.”

What do you think is going to be the ultimate fallout of the Toyota recall? Should LaHood be defending the NHTSA so strongly?

U.S. Regulators Pushed Toyota, Expedited Repairs, LaHood Says [BusinessWeek]