After tarring and feathering Toyota for alleged sudden unintended acceleration, after inventing a mass murder of 89 that creates a massive 261,000 hits on Google, after dragging executives in front of tribunals of the Washington Inquisition, after shaking down Toyota for unprecedented $48.8 million in fines, after NASA engineers subjected Toyota cars to torture worse than waterboarding, the NHTSA today announced that they found …
… exactly nothing.
In a press conference today at 2pm in Washington, the DOT presented the results of a 10-month review. It was commissioned by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducted by NASA engineers. The engineers who usually busy themselves with Mars and Venus went on the hunt for the ghost in Toyota’s machine.
“A U.S. government investigation showed no link between electronic throttles and unintended acceleration in Toyota Motor Corp vehicles,” writes Reuters, “a victory for the world’s top automaker battered by recalls over runaway vehicles.” The NASA’s scientists found no ghosts, no tin whiskers, no shorts, not a shred of evidence.
Even “hold Toyota’s feet to the fire” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had to concede: “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended acceleration in Toyotas,”
However, the punishment of Toyota before found guilty left lasting marks. Hounded by a government that has ownership interest in two car companies that are in direct competition with Toyota, the Japanese carmaker lost a full two percent of market share in the U.S. in 2010. While the market grew 11 percent in the U.S. in 2010, Toyota was treading water. This was the first time in 12 years that Toyota lost ground in the U.S. Interestingly, SUA remained a U.S. phenomenon, as freshly evidenced by Toyota’s strong sales elsewhere.
As Reuters notes: “The recalls, government scrutiny, which included testimony by Chief Executive Akio Toyoda at congressional hearings a year ago, and more than $30 million in fines damaged Toyota’s reputation for quality and reliability.”
Toyota’s troubles in the U.S. are far from over. Toyota has to contend with hundreds of lawsuits, along with an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The wheels of justice grind slowly, but they can grind you down.
Audi had received a similar, but by comparison much milder treatment in the 80s that nonetheless nearly killed the brand in the U.S. Audi was subsequently exonerated by the NHTSA, which concluded that driver error was the cause. At the time, I had witnessed the drama from the inside. Today’s revelation comes as no surprise to me.
Nonetheless, SUA remains a phenomenon that affects all brands. After Toyota had been singled out and painted as SUA incarnate, there is a belated study by the august body of the National Academy of Sciences which looks into unintended acceleration in cars and trucks across the auto industry. Results are expected sometime this fall. Any guesses what they may be?
Despite coming up empty, LaHood said the NHTSA is thinking about new regulations: Brake override systems on all vehicles, standardizing keyless ignition systems, event data recorders in all new vehicles.
The NHTSA also considers conducting more research on electronic control systems and will look into the placement and design of accelerator and brake pedals. Shades of Audi …