WASHINGTON - A U.S. congressional committee postponed a hearing scheduled for Wednesday to examine recent vehicle recalls and how Toyota Motor Co and regulators responded to reports of safety problems with big-selling cars.
Separately, safety regulators said they will continue their probe of brake problems with the 2010 hybrid Prius even though Toyota announced a recall and a remedy. The regulators also said they are reviewing dozens of complaints of steering problems in newer Toyota Corollas.
The House of Representatives Government Oversight Committee rescheduled its hearing for February 24 after weather forecasters warned that Washington could get hit with its second major snowstorm in a week.
Congress launched its investigations amid a spiraling safety crisis for the world's biggest carmaker, one that has led to three big recalls and has jolted its reputation for building quality vehicles.
The House committee will hold its hearing on February 24, one day before another House panel, the Energy and Commerce subcommittee on investigations, examines the same issue.
The commerce panel late on Tuesday requested information from State Farm and other insurance companies about persistent consumer complaints of sudden, unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
State Farm said it warned regulators of significant Toyota claims activity as far back as late 2007. The panel also sought information from the Progressive Group, Farmers Insurance Group and Allstate Corp to learn if they had issued similar warnings.
The committee is looking for any reports, briefings or presentations to regulators concerning defect trends and any email or other related communications to Toyota.
Toyota's top North American executive, Yoshimi Inaba, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator David Strickland, consumer advocate Joan Claybrook and safety researcher Sean Kane are slated to testify before the oversight panel.
The Energy and Commerce subcommittee has not announced its witness list.
The committees are collecting documents and other information from regulators and Toyota that piece together the decisions that they made before two major recalls in October 2009 and in January because of unintended acceleration in several kinds of vehicles.
The U.S. government also will continue its investigation into 2010 Prius hybrids over braking complaints even though Toyota announced a recall of that model, the Transportation Department said on Tuesday.
The agency would remain in constant communication with Toyota to ensure that all possible defects are identified and fixed as quickly as possible, LaHood said.
NHTSA opened a formal probe into the newest gas-electric Prius hybrid on February 3 after receiving 124 complaints from owners that they temporarily lost their ability to brake while driving on rough road surfaces.
The number of complaints has risen sharply since then.
Toyota announced earlier on Tuesday that it was recalling 437,000 hybrid models, including the 2010 Prius. The action covers more than 150,000 vehicles in North America.
The Energy and Commerce subcommittee's staff will review the matter with Toyota, said its chairman, Representative Bart Stupak.
We look forward to learning about the software issue that is causing these problems, as well as how Toyota will be rectifying it, said Stupak, a Democrat from Michigan, the state that is home to major U.S. auto manufacturers.
Toyota has announced a software fix for the problem.
NHTSA is reviewing dozens of complaints alleging steering problems in 2009 and 2010 Corollas. Motorists have complained of veering.
The agency said it is discussing the matter with Toyota to see if a formal investigation is warranted, a standard procedure when reviewing complaints.
(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Robert MacMillan and Steve Orlofsky)