Canadian filings say Toyota knew of risk

Canadian filings say Toyota knew of risk

 Some customers were told that vehicle hesitation and abrupt gear changes they had experienced with the Lexus ES 330 were a result of new electronic systems and would go away once the vehicles’ software adapted to their driving habits, the documents indicate. In other cases, Toyota and its dealers told customers nothing was wrong.
But other internal documents indicate that the company, at least internally, thought the problem was very real.

“Oh man!!!!!!,” Michael Bumstead the parts and service manager for the Lexus division of Toyota Canada, wrote in an e-mail message in July 2004, questioning the company’s decision to test-drive customers’ cars to assess the complaints before taking action. “Surely they don’t really need to drive these cars. Surely everyone knows these conditions by now. I hope everyone understands the problems this has caused.”

The minutes from an August 2004 technical service meeting also indicated how seriously dealers viewed the complaints.

“Lexus dealer owners are using the term ‘franchise threatening’ regarding this issue,” the minutes said. “These dealers are shielding us from many complaints and buybacks with some hope that we are going to make an improvement soon.”

The documents were filed in a lawsuit brought in 2006 by a Toronto couple whose 2004 Lexus ES 330 crashed into a tree. Lawyers in the case are expected to appear in court on Tuesday. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation first reported on the lawsuit on Monday.

Internal Toyota documents and dealer service records submitted to the Superior Court of Ontario show that the couple had brought the car to their dealer at least four times because it was hesitating instead of accelerating.

In its court filing, Toyota blamed the driver for the collision. And in an e-mail message on Monday, Sandy Di Felice, a spokeswoman for Toyota Canada, rejected suggestions that the ES 330 problems were a safety issue. “This is a drivability issue,” she said, “not an unintended acceleration concern.”