WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp <7203.T> believed it had saved over $100 million by convincing U.S. regulators to end a 2007 investigation of sudden acceleration complaints with a relatively cheap floormat recall, according to an internal company document.
The document, which appears to be a briefing for Toyota's North American chief Yoshi Inaba prepared by the automaker's Washington staff in July 2009, cites sudden acceleration as a "key" safety issue and warns that U.S. regulators were taking a tougher line on forced recalls.
The document, which is marked confidential, was provided to the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in advance of an appearance by Toyoda President Akio Toyoda before the panel on Wednesday.
A Toyota representative was not immediately available to comment. A copy of the presentation was obtained by Reuters.
The document seems certain to add to the high-stakes debate about whether Toyota missed or ignored red flags about a rising number of complaints about sudden acceleration in its vehicles and whether U.S. safety regulators were tough enough.
In recent months, Toyota has recalled over 8.5 million vehicles globally for problems that include sticky accelerators, accelerators that can be pinned down by loose floormats and a braking glitch on its Prius hybrid.
Toyota has estimated those recalls will cost it $2 billion in the fiscal year ending March.
But before an August 2009 crash that killed an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three others, Toyota had limited its action on sudden acceleration complaints to a recall of 55,000 floormats on the Camry and Lexus ES350.
The July 2009 Toyota presentation depicts a Washington-based company operation that presented three cases where it had succeeded in limiting U.S. safety investigations as "wins."
Inaba, who had retired from Toyota in 2007, was called back from retirement and appointed to head up the automaker's North American operations in late June by Toyoda.
The presentation that carries his name was dated July 6, 2009, about two weeks after Inaba took the job at the direct urging of Toyoda.
The document cites "favorable recall outcomes" as one of the key achievements of Toyota's lobbying effort in Washington as well as "safety rulemaking favorable to Toyota."
Specifically, the document says that Toyota's Washington safety group, a team that included several former U.S. officials, helped negotiate changes or delays to four proposed vehicle safety rules covering standards for roof crush, electric shock, side impact and door locks.
By winning "added lead time and phase-in" for new side-impact crash standards, Toyota estimated that it had saved about $124 million, according to the document.
At the same time, Toyota's Washington safety group was credited with having "negotiated (an) 'equipment' recall on Camry/ES," a step credited with saving over $100 million with no finding of a defect by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)