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2002/03 Es 300 - Nhtsa Warned About Toyota, Lexus Models In 2007

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NHTSA warned about Toyota, Lexus models in 2007

DETROIT — As Toyota grappled Sunday with reports that it was recalling its Prius hybrids in Japan and may do so in the United States, evidence continued to beg whether the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded quickly enough to reports of sudden acceleration in some of its other models.

The Prius concerns center over braking delays, but insurer State Farm told USA TODAY that it notified NHTSA in late 2007 that it was seeing an increase in sudden acceleration trends with other Toyota and Lexus models.

The automaker has undergone several investigations about such concerns starting in 2004, when complaints began filtering in about 2002 and 2003 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES models. And NHTSA opened a file on Toyota in 2007 to look into acceleration issues on Lexus models, but closed it seven months later.

It wasn't until this fall, though, after the death of a California state policeman and his family in a Lexus incident that was recorded on a 911 call, that the automaker reacted with recalls. It has since recalled 5.2 million Toyota and Lexus models in the U.S. for floor mat issues, and 2.5 million in January over sticky gas pedals.

State Farm said it "has received numerous inquiries about alleged unwanted acceleration problems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles in recent years."

Other major insurance companies either did not respond to USA TODAY, declined comment or said they did not track such information.

"Information from State Farm may help confirm a trend NHTSA is already aware of, or help identify a new one," State Farm spokesman Kip Diggs said.

In the late 1990s, State Farm was a key contributor to identifying the increasing trend of tire tread separation, which eventually led to major recalls involving Ford Explorers and Firestone tires.

Congress is also studying Toyota's and NHTSA's reactions.

On Wednesday, the House committee on Oversight and Government Reform is holding a hearing on the gas pedal issues. On Feb. 25, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is holding a hearing on whether Toyota and NHTSA acted swiftly enough.

"The whole thing got brushed over," says Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Mich., subcommittee chairman. "We think it may go back to 2004."

On Friday, Akio Toyoda, CEO of the automaker, publicly apologized for the recalls. "We will do our utmost to regain the trust of our customers," he said.

Japanese newspapers reported Sunday that Toyota would soon announce a recall to deal with Prius brake problems. In a letter to U.S. dealers over the weekend, Toyota said it will inform them of the fix to the Prius problem this week.

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