Toyota officials will not be charged for hiding steering defect
The Japanese business daily newspaper Nikkei is reporting that prosecutors in the Kumamoto, located in southern Japan, will not pursue criminal prosecution of three Toyota officials who had been accused of covering up a steering defect to avoid a recall.
The investigation stemmed from a fatal head-on collision caused by failure of the steering in a Toyota Hilux Surf, a sport utility vehicle. (Some of the Hilux models have been sold as 4Runners in the U.S.) Eventually, Toyota recalled the vehicles. But it didn’t issue that recall, until 2004. It was alleged that Toyota first learned of the problem in 1992 and was aware of it as a systematic problem by 1995 or 1996.
The officials under investigation have not been named, though Toyota has said that one of them is no longer employed at Toyota.
The charges against Toyota pale in comparison to those which rocked Mitsubishi in 2000. That company acknowledged systematically hiding product defects for more than twenty years to avoid recalls. But, in 2004, the company admitted that it hadn’t been candid in 2000, and that the extent of the cover-up was greater than it had admitted.
Nonetheless, the investigation had been embarrassing to Toyota, which has suffered a very public decline in product quality in the past few years. Last year, Toyota recalled more cars in the United States than it sold here. The launch of the Tundra pick-up has been marred by a recall stemming from defective camshafts.