Toyota faces US criminal investigation over safety

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The Independent Online

Toyota is facing a criminal investigation in the US over the fatal crashes caused by faulty accelerator pedals.

The company said it has received a subpoena from a federal grand jury demanding documents relating to problems that led to the recall of millions of vehicles. The Securities and Exchange Commission has also requested information, the Japanese car maker said yesterday, as it examines whether Toyota's US shareholders were misled.

Toyota's escalating run-in with the US authorities comes amid the release of damaging internal documents showing its safety managers boasted about saving $100m (£64m) by persuading the US safety regulator to limit the size of an early recall of potentially defective vehicles when accelerator problems first emerged. An internal presentation put the 2007 recall, which affected just 55,000 vehicles, on a list of "Wins for Toyota Safety Group".

US lawmakers will examine whether the company put financial considerations ahead of driver safety at two Congressional hearings this week, including one tomorrow at which Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, is scheduled to testify. The internal presentation was among documents turned over to the House Oversight Committee, which holds a hearing today. The Toyota Safety Group highlighted the financial gains from delaying safety improvements. Phasing in a new requirement for side air bags saved the company $124m, it said. Lobbying to delay a rule for tougher door locks saved $11m.