Updated - House Subpoenas Toyota Documents; Akio Toyoda to Testify

04/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Steve Parker Journalist/Broadcaster covering the auto industry and auto racing for 35 years

A few days after Akio Toyoda, grandson of the founder of Toyota, said he would not testify before the Oversight Committee into Toyota Motors -- the House committee created to investigate the company's response to the many safety problems involving its best-selling vehicles -- the committee has subpoenaed Toyota's records involving lawsuits in Texas. An ex-Toyota attorney who represented the company in those rollover-related lawsuits, says Toyota intentionally withheld or destroyed pertinent documents, and he is suing Toyota under federal racketeering statutes.

And as I wrote in the previous post about Toyota's arrogance, too-quick growth, and apparent evasiveness, it seems the company and Mr. Toyoda still don't get it.

Akio Toyoda has been "officially invited" to testify before the House committee. Toyoda begged off the original invite, saying US Toyota employees would be better-suited for the job. But the recalls are not just in the US -- they are worldwide -- and Toyoda has now been requested in writing to appear.

UPDATE reported by AP February 18 at 6:30pm - Toyota president Akio Toyoda said Thursday he will testify at a congressional hearing next week about the automaker's massive recalls in the United States, meeting face to face with lawmakers after enduring criticism that he responded too slowly to the company's safety crisis.

The Los Angeles Times, which has led the media in reporting this story, says today that Toyota has hired Exponent Inc., a California company which the newspaper reports regularly provides research for corporations under fire including Exxon (the Valdez oil leak disaster), NASA (the Challenger explosion), Swiss Re (insurer of the World Trade Center) and FEMA to investigate the Oklahoma City bombing which destroyed the Murrah federal building. The Times says "Exponent's research has come under fire from critics including engineers, attorneys and academics who say the company tends to deliver to clients the reports they need to mount a public defense."

A House panel today subpoenaed confidential company documents that a former Toyota lawyer has said prove the automaker routinely concealed evidence from the courts and federal regulators, a committee staffer said.

The subpoena was issued as part of an investigation by the House of Representatives Oversight Committee into Toyota Motor Corp.'s response to complaints of uncontrolled engine acceleration that led to a global recall of more than 8 million vehicles, Kurt Bardella, a committee staff spokesman, told Reuters.

Dimitrios Biller, who headed a corporate legal team that defended Toyota in rollover-accident lawsuits, took some 6,000 internal documents with him when he left Toyota in 2007, and has since sued the automaker under U.S. racketeering laws.

He has said the documents support his allegations that the company systematically hid or destroyed legal evidence that would have led to costly trials in the United States.

The committee's subpoena was accepted by Biller's lawyer on behalf of his client, "and obviously they intend to comply," Bardella said.

The subpoena came hours after the committee issued a letter formally asking Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, to testify before the panel.