In the most recent documents obtained from Toyota, officials claim that they saved the company at least $100 million by successfully negotiating with the government to limit vehicle defect recalls to floor mats. According to a CBS News report, Toyota officials, in an internal presentation in July 2009, boasted about saving the company millions by dodging major defective auto recalls. The title of their presentation was “Wins for Toyota — Safety Group.”

Attempts to Avoid an Expensive Recall

Officials apparently did that by negotiating an “equipment recall” of floor mats involving just 55,000 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES350 vehicles in September 2007. In these documents, Toyota officials also cite millions of dollars in other savings made possible by delaying safety regulations, avoiding auto product defect investigations and slowing down other industry requirements.

Recalls, Consumer Complaints and Government Inquiry

Over the last few months, Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles not only over the defective floor mats discussed in this internal presentation, but also over safety problems involving gas pedals and brakes. The government so far has received more than 2,000 complaints of sudden acceleration problems, including 34 deaths over the last 10 years. The Japanese auto maker estimates that this recall will cost $2 billion.

Toyota is also, under a lot of heat now because of a government inquiry into its slow response to these serious vehicle defects. These internal memos and documents prove quite clearly that Toyota officials had done everything in their power to avoid being in the situation they are in right now. In their anxiety to maintain their “stellar reputation” for quality and reliability, they put profits ahead of the safety and well-being of their consumers. Had Toyota acted promptly a number of tragic deaths and catastrophic injuries could have been prevented.

Recalls – Too Little Too Late?

These Toyota recalls come too late for many families who have lost loved ones. In fact, the recalls were spurred by a car accident in San Diego, which killed CHP Officer Mark Saylor and three of his family members. In that case, the loaner Lexus he was driving accelerated out of control and crashed. Those four people would have been alive had Toyota focused on investigating its product defects and conducted a timely recall.

We are currently representing a number of families who have been torn apart by claimed Toyota sudden acceleration accidents. The collision damage and bodily injury in these accidents is what you would expect from a high speed street racing crash, except these are innocent people. Could these collisions have been avoided if Toyota had promptly recalled their defective vehicles when they first became aware of the problems? We’ll see.

As California auto product liability attorneys who have represented victims against several large auto makers, we know that corporate greed is not something that’s unique to Toyota. All auto makers that we have fought against tend to put profits over the people who buy their products. The safety of their consumers has never been a priority — let alone a “top priority” — for Toyota or the others. The question is: Will there be a turnaround after this massive Toyota recall? Will the others learn their lesson from this episode or will they continue to believe that they can get away with it for as long as they can?