By on July 15, 2010

So far, it had only been the usual people “familiar with the findings” that whispered to the WSJ that the NHTSA has found bupkis in their search for the ghosts in Toyota’s machines, and that there is growing suspicion of the NHTSA that it could have been the wrong foot on the wrong pedal again.

Now, the Financial Times writes for the first time that “US government officials have acknowledged that they have so far found no fault with the carmaker’s electronic throttle controls. They have suggested that many complaints of unintended acceleration that have dogged Toyota stem from driver error rather than defective equipment.”

Daniel Smith, an associate administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, addressed a meeting organized by an independent committee set up by the National Research Council to probe the causes of unintended acceleration. In the meeting, Smith said that “despite several investigations of Toyota’s electronic throttle control system, NHTSA has not been able to find a defect.”

Richard Boyd, acting director of NHTSA’s office of defects investigation, told the NRC meeting that most sudden acceleration incidents investigated over the past three decades “probably involve the driver unintentionally pressing the accelerator when braking was intended.”

According to the FT, Toyota has not received details of NHTSA’s test findings. But Toyota says their own tests point to a variety of causes, including “pedal misapplication” and other driver errors.

To me, this is Audi all over again. I worked as a consultant for Volkswagen, and was very close to the proceedings. There is one difference. During the Audi scandal, is was mainly the hysterical media, led by CBS 60 Minutes in November 1986, that kept the flames on high. The NHTSA had acted professional, with restraint. After careful analysis, NHTSA much later concluded that the majority of unintended acceleration cases were caused by driver error such as confusion of pedals. The findings came 2 ½ years after the 60 Minutes program. In January 1989, the Canadian government issued a report attributing sudden acceleration to “driver error.” Two months later, a NHTSA report blamed “pedal misapplication.”

This time, it’s different. This time, the government has two car manufacturers and a big a conflict of interest. This time, it was the NHTSA and Transportation Secretary LaHood who fanned the flames and politicized the matter. It was the NHTSA that used their faulty database to spread horror stories about vehicular mass murder. This may also explain the rather rapid speed with which the NHTSA seems to suddenly distance itself from the matter. With Audi, it took years. This time, it’s months. It’s a classic case of hit and run.

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37 Comments on “NHTSA: Never Mind Throttle-Gate...”


  • avatar

    Meanwhile, “safety advocates” still aren’t convinced… Sean Kane tells NPR that Toyota hasn’t been exonerated, and former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook tells Automotive News [sub]
    That is totally ludicrous. They should be looking at the electronics in their cars and everyone knows it.
    But then, if you went into this believing that people could press the brakes as hard as they could and still be unable to stop their Toyota, a certain amount of cognitive dissonance is to be expected. The saga continues…

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I don’t doubt that Toyota, like Audi did (and probably like Ford may still, given the SUA stats before everything went south) may still have an ergonomic problem. The NHTSA could, and probably should, look into that to ensure that pedal entrapment isn’t the only cause here.

      But it is disturbing to see Claybrook, who should know better, behaving like a knee-jerk Luddite and blaming electronics.

      It seems reasonable to assume that since we have the same four or five vehicles in the top ten (the ES, Camry and Avalon, the Panthers) and that the “victims” are usually old, short and female and yet GM’s senior-citizen offerings are absent that perhaps the NHTSA ought to be spending a little more money on kinesiologists and ergonomists (to find out why these cars are different despite similar demographics) and a little less getting rocket scientists to chase phantoms.

      Far too often people blame what they can’t, don’t or wont understand. Heck, we saw it on this site, what with the clamouring for the good old days of throttle cables without a thought to how often they went wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      Dynamic88

      psarhjinian +1

      If we really wanted to find out what’s going on, we’d be looking at things like pedal placement.

  • avatar
    mdensch

    While I do think NHTSA was way over the top in its rush to judgment over this issue when the story was first breaking, I think it’s a mistake to put forward the conspiracy theory that the government was motivated by its conflict of interest as partial owner of two of the domestic manufacturers. Just because both A and B are true doesn’t mean that A and B are somehow related.

    I think it’s more likely that LaHood’s zeal stemmed from his and the administration’s distrust of big business and core belief that government intervention is the cure for all ills in our society. (And people such as Joan Claybrook are nothing more than sycophants for such thinking.)

    Now that we seem to be coming to the (correct) conclusion that most of these cases are caused by operator error, it would be useful to examine why there is such a wide disparity in the rate of occurrence from one car maker to another.

    • 0 avatar

      What rate of occurrence where?

      You mean in that joke of a database where anybody with a laptop can create mass killings? I have the database on my machine. It’s a scandal.

      Compared to the number of cars sold, statistically, the reports are nothing back background noise. You cannot draw statistical conclusions from those data.

      Of course, every report must be carefully investigated.

      Publishing raw, uninvestigated data borders on criminal behavior, and drawing conclusions from the raw data borders on insanity.

    • 0 avatar
      mdensch

      TTAC itself reported on apparent disparities in occurrence rates among manufacturers and among models on a number of occasions:

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/ttacs-nhtsa-data-dive-95-cars-ranked-in-rate-of-unintended-acceleration-complaints/

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/nhtsa-data-dive-3-117-models-ranked-by-rate-of-ua-incidents/

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/nhtsa-data-dive-5-ua-incident-rate-by-models-1995-2008/

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/nhtsa-data-dive-2-ua-rates-1990-2009-by-manufacturer-updated-with-new-charts/

      If the database upon which TTAC writers are relying for this information is so flawed, you better let them know so they can quit printing such pieces.

  • avatar
    AaronH

    I wonder what these filthy political taxtaker parasites real agenda was with Toyota? Was it to just help their stolen auto companies GM and Chrysler by bashing the competition? Was it to get Toyota to pay-off the UAW Parasites in California? Was it to get Toyota to except UAW Parasites at their USA plants?

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      I hate to rain on your rant [decaf might help} Just a few facts here from your friendly TTAC UAW/CAW “parasite”.

      Both Toyota, and GM were contractaly obligated to “pay off” the California NUMMI plant.

      Nobody can FORCE Toyota to “except” the UAW, not even the government. Only the workforce can invite the union, in through a democratic vote.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re missing a few parts there, mikey: “Only the workforce can “INVITE” the union FOLLOWING WEEKS, MONTHS, AND EVEN YEARS OF STRONG-ARM TACTICS, COERCION AND ALL-OUT BULLYING OF WORKERS BY UNION THUGS in through a “DEMOCRATIC” vote.”

      We all know how this particular game is played.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      “Both Toyota, and GM were contractaly obligated to “pay off” the California NUMMI plant.”

      But it didn’t work out that way, did it…?

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/toyota-stuck-with-nummi-closure-costs/

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Your right Cammy. NUMMI fell under the old GM…the liquidation part. A lot of people got screwed,Delphi salary,share holders,suppliers,and the UAW people at NUMMI.

      Toyota got left holding the bag and they coughed up thier share of the obligations. But make no mistake here, the UAW/
      NUMMI represented got a fraction of what the rest of us got. Thier bitter, and I don’t blame them. Solidarity forever eh!

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Rob Finfrock… With all due respect, sir you are about 50 years behind the times. Either that,or its just hard to find good thugs these days.
      Yes indeed, the UAW would love to get thier foot in the door at the transplants. As long as Honda and Toyota keep pace with the UAW. That door ain’t gonn’a open soon.

      As far as knowing,”how the game is played” The tranplant management is very much aware of how,threats and coercion work. They are just a little more indirect,with thier so called, strong arm tactics.

    • 0 avatar

      Do a Google search on “UAW coercion” mikey, and tell me what you find.

      I’ll help you out (as there are over 165,000 results from that search.) As recently as 1997, the UAW had its hand slapped after threatening workers at the blessedly non-union Saturn plant in Spring Hill, using precisely the same strong-arm tactics I mention above.

      I know you’ll say, “well that was 13 years ago.” True… but are you saying the UAW suddenly found religion in the years since?

      Please. Don’t insult my intelligence. Not all of us are as easily bought off by a good deal on an Impala.

    • 0 avatar
      jkross22

      Mikey,

      I’ve never been part of the UAW, so I want to understand a few things. I’m asking out of admitted ignorance:

      1) Are high performing workers incentivized through bonus dollars/pay increases or is everyone in each job classification paid the same so long as they have the same number of years of experience?
      2) How difficult is it to fire poor performers? How often have you seen this done?

    • 0 avatar

      “Only the workforce can invite the union, in through a democratic vote.”

      Once card check passes the democratic secret ballot will be illegal. Only slips of paper that people are bullied into signing by thugs will be allowed.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Rob Finfrock…There is always two sides to every story,and somewhere in the middle,you might find the truth. Anytime there is a company/union dispute it’s like a war. The first casualty is the truth.
      We were.on strike twice in my 36 years,and was always a media event. Sat. trucks, reporters {always good looking women}cameras,sound men and techies.

      On our side there was placards,and boom boxs,pickup trucks,bon fires and beer.

      So the pretty reporters wander through the crowd{with a tough looking camera dude inches from her well coifed hair.} No shortage of guys willing to chat her up. Some articulate,shaved and well dressed, casual and neat..my style. Others dirty, unshaven,openly drinking beer while leering and her short skirt and pretty legs. Who do suppose gets the 30 second sound bite on the 6:oo news.

      You gusssed it, the guy that can’t say three word’s without droping an F bomb. “GM’s been bleepin and bleeping us for years,and I’m here to tell ya honey,they ain’t bleeping any beepin more”. The guy walks away revealing a massive gut,and releasing a loud belch. Belch and all makes the 6 o’clock news.

      Is it any wonder that folks judge us?

      One has to live it and breath it every day,and its hard to justify, or explain to an outsider. So lets just say we will agree to disagree.

      @jkross22 Everybody is paid the same,by classification. Seniority rules as far as getting/ landing a better job. However if can’t do the job management has the right to remove you from it for cause.

      Yes, Ive seen people fired and stay fired. Though I have to admit,one would have to be pretty f—-n stupid.

    • 0 avatar

      “One has to live it and breath it every day,and its hard to justify, or explain to an outsider. So lets just say we will agree to disagree.”

      You’re right, mikey. It’s hard for me to see the other side of this argument… but I should realize there IS another side. I apologize for veering over the snark line.

    • 0 avatar
      mikey

      @ Rob Finfrock…we’re cool.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    With this news, Toyota could be cheeky and borrow a slogan from VW/Audi…either “Truth In Engineering (Not Falsehood In Hysteria)” or “(Skilled) Drivers Wanted.”

  • avatar
    celebrity208

    The basis for blaming the driver is the data recorder stating that the throttle was wide open and the brakes were off. Cool, but unless there is an independent throttle positioning sensor and data recorder then there will never be any conclusive proof as to what actually happened. Simple as that. As E.N. said… “The saga continues…”

  • avatar
    Mark out West

    LaHood is an idiot. We deserve better. Then again, the same could be said of his boss.

    • 0 avatar

      I just want to remind you all the LaHood is a born and bred Republican.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      It’s not so much that he’s a Republican as much as he’s an shallow, Old School reactionary.

      C. Everett Koop was a Republican, too, and LaHood ain’t no Koop.

    • 0 avatar
      Invisible

      LaHood. Look into his education, his past experience, all before becoming a Washington hitman/thug.

      Nothing gives that thug the experience or background to be traveling to Japan to review Toyota’s process and controls, passing judgements as to when/if Toyota can build cars in their own country, extort money from Toyota.

      Washington and their thugs are totally out of control.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    There is one difference. During the Audi scandal, is was mainly the hysterical media, led by CBS 60 Minutes in November 1986, that kept the flames on high. The NHTSA had acted professional, with restraint.

    I think you can safely blame the media. What power, really, does anyone—government included—have when the same handful of people control, effectively the medium and the message.

    The reason the NHTSA can’t act like it did in Audi’s case is because the media is so much more vicious and the news cycle so much shorter. Administrators have very little leverage and ability to act counter to a media-stoked public baying for blood.

    By the way, I’m not claiming a liberal or conservative bias, but a bias towards making the media more money. There’s functionally no check on the fifth estate’s power.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve been in the propaganda business all my life. You never make things up. You never outright conspire.

      You wait until something useful comes your way, and then you co-opt it. You fan the flames. You leak information. You shape a story that will never be traced back to you as the source.

      If it blows up, you blame the media.

      The media is like a pack of dogs. Someone has to lay the scent for the dogs to follow.

    • 0 avatar
      Bunter1

      Agree with the bias toward making money in the media-while condemming those “evil capitalists” in other buisnesses.

      However I have seen the results of media voting patterns, opinions on various social issues and records of which political parties they give to. Various polling sources, including major pollsters, spread from the 60′s through present day. The results are consistent and show a strong (65-85%) toward one end of the political spectrum.

      Bias is very real in the media.

      BTW, figured it was largely driver error all along.

      Bunter

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      The media is like a pack of dogs. Someone has to lay the scent for the dogs to follow.

      I used to think this; I’m not so sure it’s the case any longer, or at least more of the truthiness lies with the media and less with the source.

      There’s been a sea-change in news-media in the last few decades; away from being a seller of medium—a portal, if you will—to being a producers of content. It’s not a new thing: before and during WWII it wasn’t at all unusual for the media to package, if not fabricate, news for entertainment or political purposes, and it’s come back now.

      I suspect the government was completely in reaction mode, here. They have to be, or be labelled as weak or compromised to make the story just that much juicier. The media? Who cares, by the time it’s all sorted out we’re into the next news cycle.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      psarhjinian and bertel…

      Any of us who knew the Chicago/Illinois boys groaned when Obama picked TheHood.
      He has been one of the dirtiest pols and running the Illinois roads was a disaster.
      There is a reason you know you have entered, or left Illinois. The roads are horrible.
      When 40 percent of all taxpayer funds are redirected, there is little left for the real work.

      Another case in point of the Obama administration:
      His own Chief of Stall, Rahm Emanuel, is quotes as saying you NEVER let a crisis go to waste.

      This was a perfect example.
      Use this panic to gain market for GM and Chrysler.
      Get more government control and power in manufacturing and auto standards.

      Get ready for more.

    • 0 avatar
      Cammy Corrigan

      TrailerTrash,

      If we judge a politician by the state of the roads, then “Ah-nuld” Schwarzenegger must absolutely dire.

      Everytime I’ve driven in California, the roads were absolutely shocking.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      His own Chief of Stall, Rahm Emanuel, is quotes as saying you NEVER let a crisis go to waste.

      He is not the only one who has said this, nor the first, nor is it a maxim of the left or right, nor even one of the authoritarian or anarchist. Heck, it’s not even restricted to government (you would not believe what got swindled through as part of Y2K, for example).

      Taking a reactive moment and using it to further a strategy is a very, very old political trick, and there’s a good reason for it: people are inherently change-averse and not very progressive. Sometimes, for good and for ill, leveraging a crisis really is the only way to get very necessary things done because you cannot get them done proactively without protest.

      I wish more people understood this. For one, it would allow government to be more proactive when it’s worth their being so. For another, it would prevent “omnibus” legislation, where all sorts of back-handed crap gets through on the coattails of necessity.

      The NHTSA is just such an example: they could, and probably should, be more proactive and progressive, but that will simply garner shouts of “socialism!” and rants about how industry always knows best. So the only way things get done (and the way the NHTSA avoids looking like a total patsy) is to leverage nonsense like this.

      Somewhere there’s a workable middle ground. I doubt we’ll ever reach it.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    This whole mess has become and still is a Political football, what the USA does the whole World follows from our politicians in Ottawa to London, England in the House of Commons.

    Mr. LaHood is a typical politic type, he has many followers which open there mouth without thinking, it’s really too bad for all of us.

    I think if this problem had been a item for a USA Manufacturer, there would not have been this fervour, but a outside and foreign maker, then they where fair game for Politicians of all types, especially here in Canada the NDP(Labour)who are mainly from the Windsor Ontario area ie Detroit area then they tend to support the CAW types, no matter what!

  • avatar

    Politicians are always looking for a way to blame machines, which do not vote, for problems rather than people, some of whom do vote.

  • avatar
    mpresley

    Does any of this surprise anyone? It is a conspiracy of stupidity and political opportunism. Why should politicians discuss anything really important, and why should reporters report on anything really relevant, such as unfunded Social Security liabilities in a ponzi scheme that makes Bernie Madoff look like a piker, when it’s so much easier, and so much more fun to go after Toyota. I knew that when all was said and done I’d just wind up nauseous when thinking about it all.

  • avatar
    wsn

    Murphy’s Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

    wsn’s Law: Any politician that has the opportunity to play dirty, will play dirty.

    The attack on Toyota is definitely politically motivated. It’s just executed so poorly that it doesn’t look the part.

  • avatar
    johngalt

    Surely it’s not hard to believe that these government morons were either disingenuous or too damn stupid to properly investigate anything.

    And all the while their bail out babies benefitted. How cozy.

    So where does Toyota go to get their reputation back?


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