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Toyota secretly bought back faulty vehicles: lawyers

Japan’s top world automaker Toyota secretly bought back some of the faulty vehicles it sold on the market in a bid to hide their defects from the public, the lawyers of clients suing the automaker.

One complaint filed in California and obtained by AFP said that, contrary to the company’s statements, Toyota technicians have replicated the sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) problem that led to the recall of millions of its vehicles months ago.

“Upon the technicians replicating a SUA event, Toyota decided it was in the customer’s ‘interest’ for Toyota to buy back the vehicle, meaning in reality that Toyota decided to remove this vehicle from the market since it was experiencing SUA incidents that could not be blamed on the driver,” said the complaint.

“And, to further conceal the defect, Toyota required as a condition of the vehicle repurchase that the owner sign a confidentiality agreement and agree not to sue,” it added.

The complaint said Toyota deliberately withheld the information from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and from its testimony at congressional hearings.

“The deeper we dig into the facts that surround Toyota, the more damning the evidence that Toyota was aware of the issue, and failed to act responsibly,” lawyer Steve Berman said in a statement.

“The revelation that they bought up the cars in question and prevented the owners from talking about their experience is curious at best, nefarious at worst,” he added.

In a separate statement Toyota said it “quickly and thoroughly investigates any customer reports of unintended acceleration in its vehicles,” and that its “engineers were unable to duplicate the (SUA) condition.”

The company in the past has admitted to repurchasing faulty vehicles from clients, but only to carry out what it said were complementary technical analyses.

The new complaints filed Wednesday in a federal court of Santa Ana, California, complete the class action lawsuit brought against the company in the United States.

At the height of Toyota’s crisis in late 2009 and early 2010, the auto giant made a series of mass recalls of around 10 million vehicles worldwide, undermining the company’s once stellar reputation.

It led to US congressional investigations and a record 16.4 million dollar fine to settle claims it hid accelerator pedal defects blamed for dozens of deaths.

Since then Toyota has seen its US market share shrink by 1.4 points to 15.2 percent for the first nine months of this year.

On October 21, Toyota announced yet another safety recall of about 1.5 million vehicles worldwide to fix a brake fluid leak that it warned can gradually diminish braking performance.

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