Toyota gets another federal grand jury subpoena; latest is for documents about steering rods

By Shino Yuasa, AP
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Toyota subpoenaed by US grand jury over steering

NEW YORK — A federal grand jury in New York has subpoenaed Toyota’s U.S. subsidiaries for documents related to problems with rods that connect a vehicle’s steering to its front wheels, the automaker said Tuesday.

The subpoena is the latest legal problem to confront the automaker. It also faces hundreds of lawsuits from consumers over the company’s unintended acceleration recalls, the drop in its stock price and lower resale value of its cars and trucks.

Steve Curtis, a spokesman for Toyota’s U.S. subsidiary in Torrance, Calif., declined to offer more details on the subpoena, referring to a statement saying the company intends to cooperate with the investigation. The company continues to cooperate with previous requests for documents as well, he said.

The subpoena, received in late June, is the company’s second from a federal grand jury, the panel that determines whether enough evidence exists to bring criminal charges. The first subpoena, which came in February, was for documents related to unintended acceleration in Toyota automobiles and the braking system of its Prius hybrid.

It remains unclear whether the most recent subpoena is tied to a specific recall and what vehicles are affected. But defective steering relay rods led Toyota to recall 4Runner sports utility vehicles and T100 pickup trucks in the U.S. in 2005.

Toyota waited nearly a year to issue a recall of those vehicles in the U.S., despite issuing a similar recall in Japan and receiving dozens of reports from U.S. motorists that the rods snapped without warning, an Associated Press investigation earlier this year found. When a steering rod snaps, the driver cannot control the vehicle because the front wheels are unable to turn.

Toyota said it received the subpoena from the Southern District of New York on June 29. Yusill Scribner, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office, declined to comment, saying the office does not confirm or deny its investigations as a matter of policy.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has also been seeking documents related to unintended acceleration and Toyota’s disclosure practices. Earlier this year, Michigan’s attorney general also asked Toyota to submit information on the recent U.S. recalls, Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said. She declined to elaborate.

The automaker has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles worldwide since October, including 6 million in the U.S. alone, to address the possibility of unintended acceleration and to fix a braking problem in its Prius hybrid.

Toyota paid a record $16.4 million fine for being slow to recall vehicles with an accelerator pedal problem and is facing hundreds of state and federal lawsuits. Congress is considering an upgrade to auto safety laws in the aftermath of the Toyota recalls that began in October.

U.S.-traded shares of Toyota fell $1.03 to close at $70.19 on Tuesday.

Yuasa reported from Tokyo. Associated Press Writer Larry Neumeister contributed to this report from New York.

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