WASHINGTON — The president of Toyota's U.S. operations acknowledged to lawmakers on Tuesday that the company's recalls of millions of its cars may "not totally" solve the problem of sudden and dangerous acceleration.
"We are vigilant and we continue to look for potential causes," Toyota's James Lentz told a congressional panel. However, he repeated his company's position that stuck gas pedals in some of the company's most popular model cars and trucks were caused by one of two problems — misplaced floor mats or sticking accelerator pedals.
He insisted electronic systems connected to the gas pedal and fuel line did not contribute to the problem, drawing sharp criticism from lawmakers who said such a possibility should not be ruled out and from a tearful woman who said she had been at the wheel of a runaway Lexus.
"Shame on you, Toyota," Rhonda Smith, of Sevierville, Tenn., said at a congressional hearing. Then she added a second "shame on you" directed at federal highway safety regulators.
Lentz said Toyota has not completely ruled out an electronics malfunction and is still investigating causes of the sudden accelerations. Still, "we have not found a malfunction" in the electronics of any of the cars at issue, he said.
As to Smith's harrowing story, "I'm embarassed for what happened," Lentz said. "I want her and her husband to feel safe about driving our products."
Toyota has already recalled some 8 million vehicles — more than 6 million in the United States — to fix potentially sticky gas pedals and floor mats that can trap pedals. Lentz has said before that he was confident the fixes would correct those problems.
But when asked broadly by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., whether the two recalls Toyota put in place would "solve the problem," he replied: "Not totally."
However, he said chances were "very, very slim" of unintended accelerations once the recall process was complete. Lentz also said Toyota is putting in new brakes that can override the gas pedal on almost all of its new vehicles and a majority of its vehicles already on the road.