By on April 19, 2011

Has it really been a year since the United States tore itself apart in a frenzy over the possibility that Toyota’s might suddenly accelerate out of control? So intense was the furor over Toyota’s alleged misdeeds, that it seems like the whole scandal occurred only yesterday, yet the brevity of the crisis already gives it the distance of ancient history. Now, just a year after the height of the hysteria, the first major book on the subject has arrived, casting a clear light on the events of the recall. Serving as a history of the scandal, a case study in Toyota’s responses to it, and a cutting critique of the media’s coverage of the recall, Toyota Under Fire is a powerful reminder of the many lessons that emerged from one of the most intense and unexpected automotive industry events in recent years.

One of the inevitable challenges facing anyone writing about the Toyota Recall Scandal is placing a starting point on the narrative. Some have suggested that long-term erosions of quality control led, inexorably, over the years to the cries. Others claim that Toyota’s rapid expansion in the late 1990s and early 2000’s sowed the seeds of its embarrassment. Though elements of these theories seem to have played some role in the events of the recall, the authors of Toyota Under Fire, Jeffery K. Liker, an engineering professor at the University of Michigan, and Timothy Ogden of Sona Partners, begin by charting Toyota’s rise and then launch their narrative in earnest at the outset of the oil crisis and recession of 2008. By combining the recession (which led to the bankruptcy-bailouts of two of Toyota’s key US-based competitors) and the recall scandal, Liker and Ogden are able to paint a compelling portrait of a firm facing two very different problems.

This approach works perfectly for Toyota Under Fire, as Liker and Ogden are students of Toyota’s corporate culture and philosophy, and are able to show how Toyota applied its values to solving two very different problems. In fact, though Toyota Under Fire is the best history of the recall scandal written to date, Liker insists in his preface that

There is a great deal of detail from our investigations and interviews that doesn’t appear in this book, because this book is not intended to be a defense of Toyota or investigative journalism. Instead we’ve tried to provide the materials that are relevant to understanding the crisis and what others can learn from it. The hard times Toyota was living through allowed us to see Toyota in a different context than ever before.

This new context is the crux of the book, and Liker’s background as a decades-long student of Toyota’s corporate philosophy and previous authorship of The Toyota Way, which explores this topic, is germane. As Liker says, he is not an investigative journalist bound to the ideal of pure objectivity, but a long-term student and (admitted) admirer of Toyota’s ideas and practices. This familiarity with, and respect for, Toyota’s values meant that, when the crisis hit,

the press reports were painting a picture of a company that looked nothing like the one I know.

And though he admits that “my first instinct was to write a storm of letters to the editor and opinion columns defending Toyota,” he reveals that a friend and fellow Toyota Way acolyte reminded him that such a defense would not be in accordance with genchi gunbutsu (go and see), a key Toyota value. Instead, he and Ogden applied Toyota values like genchi gunbutsu to a thorough investigation of the recall, a process that produced Toyota Under Fire. And the key finding of their research is that, faced by both a “carpocalyptic” recession and a major recall scandal, Toyota did precisely the same thing, turning to the corporate values that launched it to the pinnacle of industrial achievement, and rigorously applying them to a variety of challenges. Both Toyota’s emergence from the twin crises and the high-quality research and analysis of Toyota Under Fire stand in tribute to these values.

Corporate mission statements may not be the reason most of us read about cars, but any student of the industry (and business leaders in any industry) will find much to learn from Toyota Under Fire’s culture-centric analysis of Toyota’s actions since 2008. For example, Toyota’s decision not to involuntarily separate its US manufacturing staff even when the recession caused massive overcapacity could be read as misguided altruism or a neo-“Jobs Bank” aimed simply at keeping workers happy, but as the authors point out, the issue is actually that Toyota sees employees as investments which become more valuable as they learn and apply Toyota’s values. This might sound like so much feel-good propaganda, but Liker and Ogden bring a wealth of evidence connecting Toyota’s values and practices with the exercises, trainings, “quality circles” and waste-eliminating efforts, and connecting these to tangible results in Toyota’s US plants. Though a large cash pile helped, Liker and Ogden point out again and again that Toyota’s profound commitment to the practical application of values like “embrace challenge,” kaizen (continuous improvement), and “customer first” allows it to emerge from challenge after challenge, stronger than before.

Having endured the recession with relatively minor losses, Toyota was poised to resume its ruthless domination of the auto industry (particularly in the US market), when the recall scandal struck in earnest in the fall of 2009, with the infamous crash of an off-duty police officer near San Diego. Here Liker and Ogden switch to a more investigative mode, focusing on the facts of each incident and recall, as well as the media’s coverage and the government’s response. TTAC readers will be familiar with the extent to which hysteria around sudden acceleration in Toyotas was fueled by ignorance, media hype and government posturing, but readers who did not seek out solid reporting on the subject or who still do not understand the issues will have their eyes opened [see also TTAC's retrospective on the recall]. Without belaboring the point, Liker and Ogden’s thorough survey of the recall’s timeline is critical of NHTSA, but damning of the news media and the trial lawyers who so masterfully manipulated it. And more than merely debunking the witch-hunt hype, Toyota Under Fire goes a step further, exploring some of the intriguing characteristics that make electronics systems and sudden unintended acceleration so vulnerable to such hysteria.

But perhaps the most fascinating chapter in Toyota Under Fire deals with Toyota’s response to the crisis, in which Liker and Ogden’s familiarity with the Toyota culture, not to mention their deep access to company figures and facilities, once again serves them well. In light of the dispassionate dissection of the media-fueled recall scandal, which serves well to put the accusations against Toyota into some much-needed context, it’s not surprising that the chapter opens with a chronological description of Toyota’s responses to the different stages of the scandal, starting with Toyota’s efforts to react to, and contain the situation. Though Toyota’s efforts to mobilize dealers and customer service call centers to deal with the problem, as well as its (somewhat belated) efforts to address widespread misperceptions are good illustrations of the company’s strategy, it isn’t until phase three “turning the crisis into an opportunity” that you really understand the point that Toyota Under Fire is trying to make.

In this section the authors begin drilling down into the root causes for the recall scandal, not simply because it’s the appropriate point in the book’s structure, but because it was at this point that Toyota’s value system forced the firm to do so itself. The authors note

Improvement kaizen and turning the crisis into an opportunity for the company to improve are dependent on correctly identifying the real problems, not just the problems presumed by outside observers. Only then can the underlying root causes of those problems be diagnosed, a necessary step before generating solutions.

The problem as identified by outsiders was, in the words of Ray LaHood, that Toyota had become “safety deaf.” Liker and Ogden explore that possibility, but argue that neither Toyota’s culture and operations nor a survey of defect and recall data show evidence of that popularly-held perception. Rather, Toyota’s internal investigations and ongoing kaizen processes pointed to a number of factors which allowed the scandal to play out. Toyota’s organizational structure, with sales split from manufacturing and overseas operations split from corporate headquarters was identified as an underlying weakness, hurting Toyota’s ability to communicate with government regulators (for example, after-sales engineering was based in Japan, unable to communicate with local regulators). Toyota’s methodical pace was acknowledged as a problem, as it fed media speculation. Another problem, possibly one of the most serious, was Toyota’s weakness in listening to customers. Shinichi Sasaki, Executive VP for global quality explains:

As you know, Toyota has made a lot of efforts to achieve the classical definition of quality control… things like the dependability and durability of the vehicles. But, if there’s a lesson from the recent recalls, it’s that things we engineers do not think are serious could sometimes create a lot of concerns on the part of the customers… We should not just be talking to the customers from a purely engineering viewpoint, but we have to care more about the customer’s feelings.

This, in a nutshell, seems to be the major area where Toyota contributed to its misfortune in the recall crisis. Not only does SUA bend the traditional “defect” paradigm, but in my opinion Toyota’s core value of not blaming customers may have denied it an important tool in explaining the distinction between a true “defect” and an opportunity to misuse or become frightened by an automobile (like installing the wrong mats, or misunderstanding the function of a “smart” cruise control system). From a pure PR perspective, one could argue that Toyota allowed its reputation to be turned on its head (at least temporarily) in order to avoid the perception that it was blaming anyone other than itself, an approach that actually fueled suspicion of it.

But, as Toyota Under Fire proves, culture is the lifeblood of Toyota, and blaming customers would have gone against a number of the firm’s cultural values, including “customer first” and “ownership and responsibility.” Though adhering to that culture put Toyota at a tactical disadvantage once in the midst of the scandal, the fact that Toyota refused to abandon its principles in a moment of desperation will ultimately maintain the firm’s strategic advantage. Had Toyota truly become “safety deaf” or actually allowed dangerous defects to be sold, it might have had some cause to rethink the culture that has launched it to the top of the auto industry. Because the recall scandal was actually caused by a number of subtle, even mundane challenges that arose from Toyota’s development, the Toyota Way (which is, at its base, a system of identifying and eliminating problems) was the perfect foundation on which to once again rebuild the company.

Toyota Under Fire ends with a number of lessons, aimed largely at leaders of organizations wishing to learn from Toyota’s experience. The authors offer lessons about cross-cultural communication, the media, confronting weaknesses, taking responsibility and more, but perhaps the most important lesson is the simplest one: commitment to a healthy culture will always trump radical change once a crisis arrives. In an industry dominated by products, personality, style and cyclical changes, it’s easy to forget that one of Toyota’s greatest contributions to modern industry is in its corporate culture.

In fact, since Toyota’s struggles last year, several industry commentators have goner as far as to wonder how Toyota ever became as dominant as it did, given that its brand and products don’t have any “special appeal” in terms of power, styling or image. What Toyota Under Fire explains so wonderfully is just how deeply engrained Toyota’s culture is in everything it does, how that culture discretely goes about the business of constant improvement, and how it delivers meaningful results even when facing huge challenges. And as Toyota has proved by becoming one of the world’s dominant automakers and then surviving two huge challenges in its largest market, the cultural “intangibles” can be the difference between success and failure.

Toyota Under Fire is available from Amazon and other fine book retailers. Contact the authors, access their research materials and order the book directly at www.toyotaunderfire.com

The Truth About Cars, Edward Niedermeyer and Bertel Schmitt are all cited as sources in this book.

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49 Comments on “Review: Toyota Under Fire...”


  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Whatever happened to the guy in Calif with the highly publicized Prius thrill ride?
    That one sure smelled funny.
     

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      That would make an excellent follow-up investigation for TTAC to pursue.  What happened to the people who appeared to be trying to cash in on the SUA scare?

      I don’t recall that the Prius guy, James Sikes, tried to get any compensation from Toyota, so it’s unlikely that he committed any crime that can be proven.

    • 0 avatar
      timothyogden

      Sikes’ claims were pretty thoroughly debunked pretty quickly. All the vehicles systems were operating normally. The vehicle itself recorded that he was pressing the accelerator to the floor while keeping his other foot lightly on the brake to generate the brake lights and the smell of burning brakes. 

      As far as I know he didn’t do anything illegal however (other than speeding).

  • avatar
    mike978

    Sounds like an interesting book. Although I am glad you pointed out that the authors are self confessed Toyota admirers. I am sure TTAC wouldn’t give such a good review to a book singing GM’s praises. I liked the spin around using the recalls as an “opportunity” to improve – hardly a new comment and I am sure they will improve.
    One question – if Toyota is so wonderful at improving and learning why do they a) have terrible sales in Europe and b) not build a fun to drive car?
     

  • avatar
    Bridge2farr

    Sorry. Don’t worship at the church of Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      iNeon

      I quit reading after “a friend and fellow Toyota Way acolyte reminded him that such a defense would not be in accordance with a key Toyota value.” 

      Yours was my thought as well, Bridge. It felt irreverent to me.

      Not in the jovial sense, either– mostly in a: “these people are going to Hell if they’re following a car company’s creed to a point of admonishing one-another for less-than-strict adherence” way.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    I agree, a review of a GM praising book wouldn’t be well received by TTAC.  I don’t think Toyota did a good job here at all really.  The idea would have been to prevent the crisis in the first place.  Toyota only really investigated the problem AFTER a high profile car accident that FORCED them to investigate this problem.  Before this accident, Toyota didn’t seem to be able to find problems with its cars regarding SUA.

    I will have to pass on this book by two self proclaimed Toyota admirers who are only going to strongly base this book on the positive aspects of what Toyota did during the crisis, which don’t get me wrong, they made a lot of good moves there, one being to talk about the problem as little as possible.  

    I wouldn’t say that Toyota was listening to its customers at all, that is why it took a major event for something like this to happen.  I do blame Toyota for that.  But, I am not sure that any other manufacture would have handled the beginning of this crisis any differently than Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I agree, a review of a GM praising book wouldn’t be well received by TTAC.

      Yes and no.  TTAC didn’t whip out the red pen on Steve Rattner’s book, and it certainly dealt with a topic and a group of people that “we” generally don’t receive well.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Rattner’s book didn’t praise GM.  His book was his account of the bailout.  In fact, it criticized many of GM’s executives and called them incompetent.  His book is more damning of GM than praising it.

        Now, I realize it was an account of the bailout, but it didn’t praise the bailout either.  It said the purpose of the panel was to have a controlled bankruptcy.  But it never praised what happened.  It did name names about some of the more interesting political sides of what happened during the bailout.  That is something I think TTAC would appreciate.  So, I don’t think that this example really falls into something that would be praising GM or praising the bailout.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      In all fairness, Steven, you don’t have the slightest clue what Toyota was investigating prior to the Sayers accident, unless you are a Toyota employee that handled that investigation.  Would you have come out and said that your company might have a problem if you were still investigating root causes… especially on something like this that has mostly turned out to be pedal misapplication?  There are so many factors that go into something like this that it’d be irresponsible to publicly say what the root cause is without loads of investigation.  How long did it take NASA to go through just the throttle control code?  8 months? 

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Actually, Toyota had several complaints from customers about SUA.  This is well documented.  It was complained about for years.  These were not fixed until after it ended in a fiery crash.  The time frame should tell you something.  While I don’t know how the investigations ended or how much research was done, I can see the results.

        Oh, and NASA didn’t go through all of the control code.  And, Toyota’s engineers should be able to go through their own code much quicker, they wrote it.

    • 0 avatar
      timothyogden

      Steven

      As we document in the book, Toyota would largely agree that it wasn’t listening to customers–at least no in the way that it should have. Customer feedback was being processed through an engineering filter. Toyota is not the first company to fall victim to such thinking and it won’t be the last.

      The real question is what a company does when something like this comes along. Does it do some surface level PR or does it really look at changing its processes. We think that Toyota has made some significant and major investments in how it solicits and reacts to customer feedback. Perhaps the most obvious example is the new free maintenance policy–that’s really about radically increasing the amount of customer interaction so that better feedback is received sooner.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        I agree that they weren’t listening, and in my own post I stated that I don’t know if anyone else would have done something better.  

        What has Toyota done to increase feedback from the customer?  I see what you are saying about the free maintenance policy, but is that going to stick around forever?  I mean, they are using it a lot in advertising to save you maybe $250 over the first 2 years.  I didn’t take this as a way to get more feedback, but just as a sales tactic to help with slumping auto sales from SUA and the economy.  

        The maintenance policy might increase feedback, but I am not sure that is what Toyota really needed since it already had the complaints but didn’t act on them.  To me, knowing the policy change about how feedback is handled once received would be interesting to know.  That seems to me to be where the real problem was with Toyota (and many other companies as well).

      • 0 avatar
        timothyogden

        Steven02,

        we spend a good 20 pages documenting why the process didn’t work as it should have and what Toyota has done about it. It is by no means trivial.

        In terms of the 2 year maintenance program, it certainly should help sales. But the reason it exists is that in the follow-up work Toyota did working to understand customer concerns they found that many many customers simply didn’t understand certain features and behaviors of the vehicles–e.g. “smart” cruise control, adaptive transmissions. So a major reason for the maintenance plan was to get drivers into dealers more often where they could ask questions, make complaints and dealers could collect more data on vehicle performance and customer satisfaction.

        Tim

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        I think we are going to have to agree to disagree.  The free maintenance program to help people find out how to use features on their car seems like a foot note on why to do it and a PR spin.  Maybe that is me being off base here, but it doesn’t sound like they had a lack of complaints from the customer, but that the process of getting the complaints to the engineering team and their response is what was broken.  To me, this makes the free maintenance program a sales gimmick and not something to improve that process.

  • avatar
    windswords

    So Toyota doesn’t blame the customer? That doesn’t seem to be the experience of the owners of sludged Toyota engines. They were often blamed for not maintaining their vehicles. Toyota even sent out a “customer advisory” telling them the importance of changing their oil and maintaining their car, as if the owners were children who didn’t know better. When the bad publicity got too big they finally admitted they had a problem. Sorry, I’m not buying it.

    • 0 avatar
      timothyogden

      windswords

      We didn’t look at the engine sludge issue specifically so I can’t comment on that in any detail. I can say that the recall crisis has caused Toyota to look much more deeply about how it was dealing with customer feedback. While I don’t have any detail or knowledge of this specifically, based on what we learned during the research for the book, it’s not implausible to me that Toyota has poorly handled a number of issues leading up to the recall crisis–and that they are working hard to change the processes to do better.

      A lot of people (not implicating you specifically) have a misconception that Toyota’s focus on continuous improvement means that they have fixed all problems. Quite the opposite, the focus is on the idea that there will always be problems and things to improve. Some of the recalls and customer interactions over the last few years definitely fall into that category.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    The “trouble” with all of this is, Toyota still comes out ahead and buyers still flock to their cars due to their well-deserved reputation for quality – the “fun-to-drive” quotient is nonsense – you want to carve corners? Buy a sports car, not a family sedan!

    Are Toyota vehicles still that good? I perceive not, but a change in perception takes years and bad things need to be publicized, if quality really is slipping. That needs to be proven. Or, what has been said here that the others have pretty much caught up and the differences are negligible.

    Whether one likes it or not, Toyota means lots of domestic jobs. The downfall of the OEM’s? Well, they did it to themselves, didn’t they? – as they had all the time in the world and they concentrated on raking in the bucks over producing a consistently good product. This coming from a Chevy guy. I have to face the truth of the matter. Is my Impala as good as a Toyota? In my case, it has been thus far. Maybe I’m fortunate, but I don’t abuse my cars, either. Not so true when I was younger.

    One point about the engine sludge issue – Chrysler was beaten to death over the 2.7L and the others got off scot-free. Why? That’s the $25,000 question!

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      Completely agree with you regarding a change in perception (for good or bad) taking years.
       
      Fun to drive is not an optional extra – Mazda, Ford and others manage to do it. Good design is also not just the purview of sports cars. Toyota (along with Honda) had a unique selling point – reliability. Now that many other manufacturers are at or close to them in that metric they have nothing else to fall back on. Consider the other metrics for say a compact car – fuel economy (Hyundai), price (Hyundai), styling (Ford, Hyundai), refinement (Chevy), driving dynamics (Ford, Honda, Mazda). I would say the Ford, Mazda and Hyundai’s are all close or at Toyota reliability levels but have other attributes. This is why Toyota will over time lose sales. Even their CEO said they needed to make more interesting cars – whether that be a proper Corolla S or a MR2/Celica replacement – do something.

      • 0 avatar
        KCBOY

        Why not do some research before making absolute statements. The Scion Tc is the Toyota Celica just brought back to life under the Scion Brand. FYI, the Toyota Supra is also making a comeback under the Scion Brand. For everyone out there, Scion and Lexus are both made by Toyota. I have driven the Tc, and comparing it to Mazda, Chevy, Ford, or any offering the so called Big Three have to offer, I found it to be among the best barring a Corvette, Camaro, Mustang. It is not meant to compete with these cars. I have owned domestic auto’s all my life–Oldsmobile’s, Chevy Trucks, Ford Trucks, an LTD, and even a Chrysler Le Baron Convertible. I had absolutely no complaints with any of them except the Chrysler–it was a pile of junk and it was factory ordered. In 2006 I bought my first import, and it was not a Toyota. I have been very happy with it.

        How I know these things–I did a lot of research before accepting a position with Toyota’s North American Division in December 2010, since due to the recession no one else was hiring. Let me tell you I sleep very well at night, knowing that I have not compromised my principles. Toyota employs US workers than any of the Domestic brands. They didn’t ask for a bailout from our government like GM and Chrysler have had to and not just once. I have to applaud FORD for being the only Domestic Auto Maker to not need help from our tax dollars. So much of Toyota’s money is in the hands of it’s American employees’ that is what helps to drive our Gross National Product. It is sad to say that there are more Domestic Parts and labor in US made Toyotas, than any Domestic brand. For example, the Chevy Equinox has it’s engine and transmission made in China, and the Chevy Aveo is made by Daewoo Corporation (sounds really domestic to me!) How do I know this, I worked for GM for 3 1/2 years. How does this benefit America???

        I don’t mean to belittle you in any way, but I deal with these misconceptions on a daily basis. With all the technology and information at our disposal via the internet it amazes me the rampant ignorance of our own society.

        I am not saying best of buy a Toyota, unless that is what you want. But if you due the research, your findings might surprise you.

  • avatar
    Canucknucklehead

    I get a real laugh about guys latching onto the sludge issue because if any owner could prove ONE oil change a year, Toyota would install a new motor for FREE. Gosh, when I worked at Chrysler we saw sluggged up 2.7s coming in by the truck-load and if the customer didn’t have FOUR oil change receipts a year, we sent them packing. Many were forced to scrap their cars because they couldn’t afford the repairs.

    Toyota still leads in every quality index I have ever seen. Ford is also now at the top, proof that a “domestic” can get it right. GM and Chrysler are in the basement along with MB and BMW but when you pay that kind of cash for a Beemer, you can’t admit it is a POS.

    • 0 avatar
      mike978

      LOL – GM is not in the basement on reliability – either truedelta or JD Power. Chrysler is down there. Ford, Honda and others are with Toyota so Toyota is no longer all lone at the “top”.

      • 0 avatar
        Canucknucklehead

        Consumer Reports rates Chevrolet as #25. Scion is #1, Honda #2 and Toyota #3.

        Let’s not let facts confuse things.

      • 0 avatar
        Steven02

        Canucknuckle,
        Consumer Reports is one source for data.  Not the only source.  They are not the Bible for auto quality.  They have had to lower the ratings on a few cars after they received actual data on them.  

        Go look @ JD Power’s reporting.  GM isn’t at the bottom.  Toyota isn’t at the top.  GM is at midpack or just below depending on the year.  Toyota is generally near the top or at it.  These aren’t really facts, but statistics, so as the sayings go, there are lies, damn lies, and then there are statistics.  Now, generally Toyota has rated higher above GM, I have no doubt about that.  But the differences in the statistics on quality are not that big anymore.  In fact, they are quite small.  A difference of 5 problems per 1000 cars is huge on JD Power’s study.  Consumer Reports doesn’t allow you to see the data.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      The problem was though, Chrysler had a problem with those engines along with other OEMs until they figured out the oil passages were too small for the heat the engines generated to work efficiently over the long term. For ANY engine from ANY OEM to sludge up due to oil passages made too small is inexcusable in this day and age. Smaller and smaller engines producing more and more power to move heavier and heavier cars, what do you expect?

      Ditto for transmissions.

      • 0 avatar
        Canucknucklehead

        The 2.7 was an engineer’s dream; light, smooth, powerful and economical to run. The oil passages were as small as possible to minimise pumping losses. However, the cars had a 3 month, 5,000 km oil change interval. At the time, many manufacturers were specifying a year between oil changes, Toyota included,which is insane except under ideal conditions, and conditions are rarely ideal. Try as we did, we could not train our customers to stick to 3/5000, hence the sludge debacle. The few that did change their oil as per schedule never had a issue.  

        The real issue was how the maker deals with such things as they happen to all car makers. Chrysler muffed it big time and blew any reputation they had built with the LH cars. There was rarely a second sale of an LH or any other Mopar product of the 1995-2005 period. We lost countless customers due to the sludge/A604/Grand Cherokee brake issues and almost all of them went to Toyota and Honda. A very similar thing happened while I was at GM, with intake manifold gaskets.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      I have never heard that people only need to prove that they had 1 oil change in the last year to get warranty work on this.  In fact, what I heard was that it was quite difficult to get warranty work on the vehicle at all.  Do you have a link for this?

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      The testimonials I read from people who actually had to deal with Toyota during the sludge issue were that early on, at least, Toyota told them “sorry, not our fault”. They loosened up AFTER the bad PR started to hurt them. Then they were much more accommodating. Toyota’s sludge problems were much larger than the Chrysler’s because:
      A. There were two size engines involved and they were used is wide variety of models.
      B. They didn’t perceive they had a problem and let it fester until the public outcry became too much to ignore.
      Chrysler’s sludge issue involved one engine that had more limited use than Toyota. They also responded to and fixed the problem sooner than Toyota.

    • 0 avatar
      windswords

      mike978 & Canuckle,
       
      Neither Chrysler nor GM are in the basement. CR is not reliable because it is what statisticians call a biased sample. True Delta which I applaud for their efforts is not big enough yet and favors newer cars. Only JD Powers does a 3 year survey and  uses a random sampling. According to JDP the basement has been consistently occupied by Suzuki, Land rover, and VW. Neither Chrysler nor GM is anywhere near them. Chrysler products routinely rated above Nissan in the 90’s until Daimler got a stranglehold on them. Even in those dark days they never approached the abysmal record of the automakers at the bottom of JDP’s list. GM has been a mixed bag but in general Caddy and Buick score well, Chevy scores avg to above avg (beating a lot of Japanese and Korean makes) and Pontiac tended to score below avg. All of JDP’s 3 year studies for the past few years are available on their website except for the latest one (I guess you have to pay for that). It’s very enlightening.

  • avatar
    philipbarrett

    First Question – Was Toyota’s reaction an adherence to corporate values or was it derived from watching another manufacturer (Audi) correctly blame the driver and then get skewered anyway?

    Second Question – In all the news reporting, I couldn’t find a single reference to the afflicted driver either putting the car in neutral or turning off the ignition.  Are they claiming that the rapid acceleration fault disables the ability to do either?

    Inquiring minds who once owned Beetles with exposed throttle cables want to know…

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      On your second question, is there any study out there that suggest people always react in a level headed manner to a situation under pressure?  My understanding is that neutral and ignition are options that are available.  Don’t assume that the driver always has time to think about what to do when this occurs before an accident happens.  The car had a problem.  Human intervention could solve the problem.  That doesn’t absolve anyone who made or serviced the car for fault.

      • 0 avatar
        philipbarrett

        Respectfully disagree.  According to reports, some of these cars were driven for minutes under the fault condition.  There are multiple failures that could occur on any vehicle through no fault of manufacturing or servicing which would require the driver to react sensibly.  In at least one Toyota case the victim was able to talk with a 911 operator (presumably trained to react properly in tense situations), yet the seemingly obvious was never suggested?

    • 0 avatar
      timothyogden

      philipbarrett,

      there’s of course no way for anyone other than each individual at Toyota to answer the question of why they did what they did. We asked everyone we talked to about whether there was a formal policy about taking responsibility and not blaming customers and no one recalled anything like a formal policy. There was general agreement that the approach was simply the outgrowth of the existing culture. You can choose to believe that explanation or not, but we never got a hint in any of our conversations of something different.

      In answer to your second question, most of the accidents reported occurred at low speeds in situations where a vehicle was starting or stopping. This is consistent with all the research on pedal misapplication that has been available for years. The few instances of alleged prolonged acceleration either can be demonstrably tied to a trapped accelerator due to incorrectly installed or stacked floor mats or would require so many systems to fail simultaneously that they are simply not credible. 

      For instance Rhonda Smith testified that her accelerator was not trapped, that she pressed the brakes to the floor with no impact on speed, that she shifted the car into neutral and reverse with no impact on speed, and that she pulled the emergency brake with no impact on speed. The NHTSA did investigate her incident immediately after it was reported. The investigator found that her brakes had excessive wear but more importantly, that she was using a recalled floor mat which was not clipped down. There was no evidence that the vehicle had been shifted into neutral or reverse or that the emergency brake had been pulled. 

      Those sorts of inconsistencies are pretty common in many of the reports about sudden acceleration, not just about Toyota but about SUA allegations in the vehicles of all manufacturers.

      Tim

  • avatar
    Doc

    The most perplexing thing to me was the Lexus ES at the beginning of this thing. If my memory serves me, it was being driven by an off-duty police officer. I also understand that it was driven for long period of time in which a 911 call was placed (the driver did not seem panicked on the call) and that eventually the car went off the road and all of the occupants were killed.
    This seems so bizarre to me that I find myself questioning whether it was a murder-suicide. Sorry to be so morbid but it is bizarre. The fact that this was police officer makes it stranger because I would expect him to be able to remain relatively calm under pressure.
    Has there been any further information on this case?

    • 0 avatar
      tekdemon

      Yes, they found the wrong floormats and a previous complaint on that car of sua by another driver, who had apparently already half-nuked the brakes. The dealership had ignored that complaint….

    • 0 avatar
      Doc

      I would be interested to know if there was an investigation into the mindset of the driver. It is hard to understand, especially after hearing the 911 call, how he could not have figured out how to stop this car.
      The car did not suddenly accelerate, it had a stuck throttle petal. He had options but did not use them. Worn brakes would have stopped the car. I am assuming that the brakes were not still overheated from the previous driver.

      • 0 avatar
        geozinger

        IIRC, the driver did not make the cell phone call, it was his passenger, his BIL. The driver was apparently trying to stop the car, and his BIL called looking for some kind of help. I did a quick google search, but did not find any evidence that they were trying the stop/start button or trying to put the trans in neutral. I remember hearing that some cars will not allow or ignore some movements of the shift lever if the action would lead to damage of the car. I don’t know if this is the case with the Lexus. However, I would like to point out that it was not the driver calling for help, it was his brother in law in the back seat. It sounds like Mr. Saylor was plenty busy attempting to cope with the situation.

    • 0 avatar
      Doc

      geozinger,
      Thanks for the info. I did not know that. It makes a little more sense now. This one always bothered me.
      I guess I am assuming that a police officer would be able to keep his cool enough to deal with this situation. I may be wrong about this and the push button start/stop could add another level of complexity.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Back in the 70’s, I was a young, dumb, 16 year old driving along my Dad’s old 66 Buick duece & a quarter when I decided to blow the carbon out the old girl. It was great fun to smoke screen everything behind you. (note – my dad drove very conservatively and the muffler would get packed up) OK – one day the gas pedal stuck to the floor.OMG OMG!!! and I remember my dad telling me it had happened to him once and to put the car in neutral and coast off the road and shut it down. damn amazing how you remember this stuff when your ass is puckered up to your liver. That’s what I did, afterwards I lifted the hood, removed the ait filter and saw that the air filter box had turned and how the carb linkage would bind on it. Simple fix.

    • 0 avatar
      Doc

      I had a very similar situation happen when I was about 19 in a 77 Pontiac Lemans. I was on I-75 in Detroit. It was not rush hour, it was mid morning, but there was a lot of cars on the express way.
      I immediately knew that the throttle had stuck and first I repeatedly pushed the petal hoping that it would somehow release. It did not, then I quickly put the car in neutral and pulled of to the side and turned the ignition off as the car was still rolling on the shoulder.
      This experience makes it hard for me to understand some of the accidents that people driving Tototas had. I assure you, I have neither the nerves of Captain Sulley or the driving skills of Jack Baruth and I was only 19 but was able to think clearly enough under pressure to deal with this.

      • 0 avatar
        philipbarrett

        My father stretched out in the passenger seat of my Beetle and unknown to both of us caught the throttle cable.  After my initial shock, even at 17 I had the wherewithal to push the clutch in.  Of course “rapid” acceleration was never a trait of the original Beetle.

  • avatar
    Hurray

    Helllo…did any NOT hear the NASA & DOT press conference – link: http://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00e551eea4f588340148c86f225f970c

    There was no electronic issue found in Toyota vehicles. Aaa, isn’t this what Toyota engineers have been saying all along? There was no defect in the Lexus SUV that crashed ~ it was entrapped floor mat that was not made for the vehicle…can someone explain how that is a manufactureing fault? I had 66 chevy impala, with no floor clips and mats rode up under pedal & would have to pull it back down.  I think its double mats and pedal confusion are the cause, (seems like every accident claiming Unintended acceleration the person seems to be over the age of 70). It’s not that its elder bashing, but I wouldn’t want my own dad behind the wheel as his response times are so much slower. It happens. Lets also not forgot Toyota has agreed and apologized, so they are damned if they do or damned if they don’t.  Not sure how they kept their cool with Congression Hearing bashing. I think Toyota is still the best car made. And, they stand behind their products ~ they continue to have these so called needed Customer Support Programs, so whiny folks like ourselves can get freebe’s when are vehicle is out of warranty and we were too cheap to buy an Extended Warranty. Enough. I only HOPE Toyota comes out on top and takes a sweeping victory.

  • avatar
    scpoidog

    Tim-

    Did you touch on reasons the govt went after Toyota with such vigor (UAW, Cash for Clunkers, Obama) in your book?

    • 0 avatar
      timothyogden

      Ultimately that would have to be based on speculation which we tried to stay away from in the book. I, personally, don’t believe there was anything like an organized attempt to go after Toyota. Different individual people may have had specific motivations–e.g. certain politicians grandstanding to justify campaign contributions from unions–but there wasn’t a concerted effort. 

      I think that conclusion is backed up by the fact that Toyota is not the first to face a runaway media train of false allegations about product safety. Audi, Ford, Chevy, and Suzuki for instance, have all been victims of manufactured media exposes.

      The real problem, I believe, is with the American safety culture and public policy.

      • 0 avatar
        scpoidog

        “certain politicians grandstanding to justify campaign contributions from unions”

        That is my question. Obama took a lot of campaign $$ from the unions who weren’t happy about the cash for clunkers and GM bk. I understand the media, but I don’t recall Ford getting hauled in front of Congress or the Sec of Transportation telling the country that driving they should not drive a Ford because it’s unsafe because of UA or faulty cruise control that catch fire. The govt’s own agency, NHTSA, stated the only thing they found was floor mat entrapment (since proved correct). As UA is a problem experienced by all brands, Why was Toyota singled out by LaHood?

  • avatar
    FRANKO


    NASA’s Michael Kirsch reviewed their results in a summary – 03/11
    http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/UA/030311Kirsch.pdf
    Last page shows that they found errors giving smaller than full throttle openings – couldn’t find the cause of “large unintended accelerations”. Those smaller ones could explain many of the low crash incidents in parking lots etc. There is no reason why drivers are misapplying pedals in Toyotas, but not in many others such as GM’s that have had very very low numbers of cases per vehicle sold.
    I would bet there still is an electronics /computer error.

    There have been too many cases such as documented in:
    http://articles.latimes.com/2010/feb/28/business/la-fiw-toyota-deaths-list28-2010feb28
    Toyota has many fewer complaints now – still more than others – see:
    http://blogs.consumerreports.org/cars/2011/02/special-report-toyota-acceleration-complaints-drop-following-recalls.html
    and were much worse before the Saylor incident and recalls
    http://blogs.consumerreports.org/cars/2009/12/sudden-unintended-acceleration-sua-analysis-2008-toyota-lexus-ford-gm.html

    • 0 avatar
      timothyogden

      Franko, 

      we go through the data pretty extensively in the book, relying on analysis done by both NHTSA and Edmunds.com as well as in-depth studies on pedal misapplication by a number of academics who study this. Once you sort through the overwhelming amount of chaff in the NHTSA complaint database, Toyota complaints of SUA only run slightly over the norm and in many months VW, Ford and Volvo had more complaints per 100K vehicles on the road than Toyota did.

      The most important thing to remember however, is that there has never, in 20 years, been a documented case of a software or EMI defect causing SUA in any vehicle made by any manufacturer.

  • avatar
    FRANKO

    Did you separate out cruise control issues for Fords and crappy wiring for Volvos?
    Are you calling NASA’s lead guru Michael Kirsch a liar?
    From http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/UA/030311Kirsch.pdf
    NASA detailed analysis and testing did not find evidence that malfunctions in electronic throttle control caused large unintended accelerations, as described by some consumer reports.

    NASA found a way that the electronic throttle control can fail, that combined with driver input, can cause the throttle to jump to 15 degrees open, but consumer reports of this condition is very low and it leaves evidence of occurrence.

    NASA found ways that the electronic throttle control can fail that results in small throttle openings up to 5 degrees.
     

    Hope there is no way Toyota could have changed the code. Maybe NASA didn’t download the code from an actual model from one of the models with highest incidents per vehicle sold.
    NASA/NESC analyzed SOME of the code – appears to have used a good checker – but may not have been the source code:
    http://www.grammatech.com/news/2011/releases/02-14-11.html
    Wonder if it is as good or better than MISRA
    http://www.oregonsae.org/Meetings/misra_C.pps
    There are a couple million lines of code and I still believe NASA just didn’t find the gremlin for as they called “large unintended accelerations”. Perhaps the 10 investigators that will have the secret source code in the big CA trial will.


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