Toyota Motor Corporation, the Japanese car manufacturer, has been issued a subpoena by a federal Grand Jury in New York, bringing the company back into the spotlight for possible steering defects and its handling of a 2005 recall.
Media reports quoted the filing with the Tokyo Stock Exchange, in which Toyota was reported to have said that the subpoena was received by its subsidiaries in the United States on June 29, and “had demanded documents about steering relay rod defects in the company’s cars.”
The automobiles giant has already been served with two subpoenas during 2010, with one related to sudden acceleration and braking, and another from the Michigan attorney general in March for information on recalls, reports said.
In a response sent to The Hindu Toyota said, “On June 29... a federal grand jury in the Southern District of New York issued a subpoena requesting certain subsidiaries of Toyota Motor Corporation (“TMC”) to produce certain documents related to defective, broken and/or fractured steering relay rods of Toyota-produced vehicles. TMC and its subsidiaries intend to cooperate with the investigation, and are currently preparing their response thereto.”
In the response the company further said, “Toyota intends to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney’s office with regard to the subpoena and its requests... The issuance of a subpoena is only an indication that the DOJ has initiated an investigation. It does not mean that the government has concluded that Toyota has violated the law.”
In March Toyota came under scrutiny after incidents involving possible system malfunction, where the accelerator of a Prius hybrid hatchback jammed on an interstate highway in California causing it to race out of control at 94 miles an hour.
While the 2008 Prius model was covered by a November 2009 voluntary recall by Toyota, to address the risk that out-of-position floor mats could jam accelerator pedals, there were other incidents of unintended acceleration at the time, such as one involving a 2005 Toyota Prius in a New York City suburb.
Toyota’s legal woes mounted rapidly from that point as car owners claimed that the safety recalls caused the value of their vehicles to plummet and filed numerous class-action lawsuits, amounting to $3 billion or more, across the United States.
In April Toyota was ordered to pay a $16.4 million fine for delaying a January recall over accelerator pedals that did not spring back as designed, reports said. To date Toyota has recalled close to 8.5 million vehicles, of which over 6 million were in the U.S. Toyota President Akio Toyoda in February repeatedly apologised during an appearance before the U.S. Congress, saying that great strides were being taken by his company to put "safety first".
A probe by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in May this year had also questioned whether Toyota notified the agency of a steering rod defect within five business days, as required by U.S. law.