By on March 2, 2012

Toyota says that a group of trial lawyers that sue Toyota for money “manufacture controversy where none exists and use media outlets like CNN as tools to serve their narrow, self-interested agenda.” Toyota thinks that “CNN is party of and party to an attempt by lawyers suing Toyota for money to manufacture doubt about the safety of Toyota’s vehicles in the absence of any scientific evidence whatsoever.”

Toyota makes noises that it may sue CNN. What happened?

Yesterday evening, CNN aired a “Keeping Them Honest” segment with Anderson Cooper. That report made the infamous Brian Ross & David Gilbert experiment look like responsible journalism in comparison. The segment is about an internal Toyota memo. The memo is in Japanese, and the segment documents in excruciating length the problems of getting an exact translation from Japanese to English. In the first translation, an Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) system turned on during stress testing. In the second translation, “sudden unintended acceleration” occurred. In the third translation, the vehicle did “accelerate on its own.” For good measure, CNN uses both translations 2 and 3 in its report. TTAC’s in-house Japanese linguist, Frau Schmitto-san, gives version 1 the thumbs up.

Because discussions of nuances of the Japanese language in an internal memo from one Japanese software engineer to the other does not provide good video, CNN spiced up the program with Tanya Spotts. Last year, Ms. Spotts bought a Lexus ES 350. Seven months later, she drove it into a wall in a shopping mall. She swears she had been on the brakes at all times. The electronic data recorder says she was on the gas until 0.4 seconds before impact. On CNN, Scotts vows “I won’ t drive this car again.” She has not lost her confidence in Toyota: As she swears off the Lexus, CNN shows her carefully exiting her garage in a Toyota SUV (1:43 in this video.) In the end, Ms. Scott, who looks like a member of the pedal misapplication demographic, admits that she cannot prove SUA.

After eight excruciating minutes, the only accusation CNN can make halfway stick is that Toyota did not make this document available to NHTSA. Toyota did not, but it obviously made the memo available to the opposing lawyers. Nobody says outright  where the memo came from. However, in a comment to the CNN story, Toyota says that the document was  “produced in litigation,” hinting strongly that CNN received it from  the other side.

CNN thinks that the document is the smoking gun. Toyota thinks the document is proof that the company is doing its job. The memo documents a stress test process. Not on production cars. On prototypes. The memo documents a condition where deliberately wrong signals would cause an adaptive cruise control in a prototype to release its brakes from a stopped condition, only to re-apply the brake after a few milliseconds and to set an error code. As a result of this testing, the system was changed. The system described in the memo never made it into production. Toyota spokesman John Hanson called the document “evidence of Toyota’s robust design process.”

What’s more, neither the Lexus model, nor the Adaptive Cruise Control were ever sold in the U.S. A.

To me, the only interesting takeaway is that Toyota no longer presents the other cheek when dealing with the media. Toyota was very subdued during the Brian Ross ABC carhacking story. Now, Toyota comes out swinging.  It calls CNN’s report “misleading” and “inaccurate.” Toyta says CNN is “a patsy” and “journalistically irresponsible.” In a memo to CNN, Toyota “reserves the right to take any and every appropriate step to protect and defend the reputation of our company.”

Which in the business translates to “we may sue.”


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34 Comments on “Lost In Translation: Toyota Threatens To Sue CNN Over Memogate...”

  • avatar

    Good for Toyota.

    I computer program for a living.

    Does the program work on the 1st test. Nope.
    How about test 50? Usually pretty good.
    How about test 75? Even better.
    And on and on….

    Does the program go into production after the 1st test? Never.

    Errors can be overlooked and combinations of data can cause errors that weren’t tested for, but prototypes of components and software are just that, prototypes.

    Must be nice to be perfect like CNN and do everything correctly the 1st time.

    • 0 avatar

      +1. As a mechanical hardware engineer, you should see the spectacular failures we experience in the lab, which no customer ever will.

      The witch hunt continues.

    • 0 avatar

      I work in software as well, and as you know, during the development stage, bugs are crazy… now imagine if someone got hold of bug list from Alpha 1.00.001 and decided that it was refectory on the final release 1.00.248. What would the headline be? “Software destroys everything in its sight!”.

      Not to mention that failsafe worked fine here.. so whats the problem? They are trying to suggest that by the very idea that Toyota is testing their software, it is admitting that it could have problems with it, and in fact they are implying problems. Which is idiotic.

      Imagine if they got some airbag testing or crash standard testing… “airbags failed to deploy in Toyota test, do not drive your Toyota’s!”…

      Toyota should sue them. Complete story is fabrication, they need to put their foot down and act accordingly.

  • avatar

    Toyota has started closet cleaning for 2012 when the 200 sudden acceleration cases start to unravel.

    As a major US news company I’m sure CNN was looking for a Toyota spokesperson, where were they? Anderson Cooper 360 is one of the lowest rated news shows on CNN and cable news.

  • avatar

    I really do hope they sue CNN since this segment is ridiculous. Not only do 99.9% of Toyotas not have adaptive cruise control but all the memo proves is that Toyota tested the adaptive cruise control system in preproduction. CNN somehow manipulated this into sounding like there’s bugs in their computer systems. Ridiculous.

  • avatar

    This is why I don’t watch cable news. 24hrs of nonsense.

  • avatar

    I think that they have learned from the history of these things. Left unchallenged for too long, it nearly killed Audi. Chevy fought and won and sales were unaffected. Toyota recently tried tactic one in the gas pedal case, and the press-and the government- piled on. Sales were affected. Time to try tactic two.

    As for CNN, well reporters all dream of the big scoop that will make them heros like Woodward and Bernstein. This whole generation of reporters got into the business because of that dream. So I don’t believe that it’s actually a concious act. It’s just that they WANT it so badly. What did Simon and Garfunkle say? ” A man sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest.”

    • 0 avatar

      If you want to make a name for yourself in the news business, destroy a person (preferably a politician) or a company. Go on a vendetta and dig up and print/broadcast as much crap as you can find/extrapolate/make up/fabricate. Don’t even worry about context. Innuendo is your friend. Hearsay is your ally. Guilt by association is your buddy. If you destroy your target you can write your own ticket on the Journo express.

  • avatar

    I think the video was actually pretty fair for this. I don’t think Toyota has any grounds to sue really, unless it sues the people who released the statement to CNN.

    Looking at the report, they have information from Toyota stating what happened to the woman, they have the memo, Toyota’s response to the memo, said it was pre-production and a car and system that was never sold in the US. That is pretty darn fair if you ask me.

    A couple of errors in your write up Bertel.

    She didn’t press the gas until .4 secs before impact. They said that the gas was pressed .4 secs before impact.

    Also, I never saw her drive anything in the video (certainly not seeing her drive the Toyota out, maybe the video was edited after you saw it). I can’t be 100% sure about the other vehicle in her garage, but I am thinking GMC Envoy.

    • 0 avatar

      Your comment exemplifies the danger of bad reporting. You just became a victim.

      If you go to the source and follow the data recorder readout (link marked in story,) you will see that the brake was off until 0.4 sec BEFORE impact with throttle on. The brake was on AT IMPACT.

      If you want to see her exiting the garage in a Toyota SUV, you need to to got the video marked in the story.

      • 0 avatar

        Ok, that is not her exiting the garage @ 1:43 in the story. See for yourself.

        I also think you misread the document. It doesn’t show that she was on the gas at all either, until .4 secs, but there is a second in there where you can’t see what is going on.

        @ -1.4 seconds, engine looks like it is at idle (judging by rpms) and the brake is not pressed.

        @ -.4 seconds, engine is at 1600 rpms speed has increased from 5 mph from 3.7 mph. Brake not pressed.

        @ 0 seconds (impact) engine is at 1200 rpms, speed has increased to 8.7 mph from 5 mph. Brake is pressed.

        Again, I don’t think this shows that the gas was pressed until .4 seconds before impact, but actually shows that the gas was pressed at .4 before impact (could have been earlier since it appears we only get intervals of 1 second, but not before 1.4 seconds). I think you misread the source and that CNN got it right.

        From the data, yes the car accelerated, but it appears to have done this because she press the wrong pedal.

        Honestly, it would be nice to have finer resolution than 1 second to look at this data (in my opinion).

      • 0 avatar

        TPS(throtte position sensor) is just one part of the story in an automatic transmission car. I did have a rental Camry back in 1997 and throttle tip was crazy sharp. It was programmed in to give the 4-cylinder better umph of off the line(or throttle reapplication) because after that it was a dog. It takes .25 seconds to close the throttle from my logging(

        Since most Camrys, and Toyota’s, are automatic I haven’t seen a break down eliminating the manual transmission out of the picture. Or 4 vs 6-cylinder?

      • 0 avatar

        It is a Lexus ES350, so V6.

    • 0 avatar

      Steven – did you read the document? Page 7 in the linked document clearly shows that the accelerator was pressed the entire time, while the brake switch was only on at impact. No ambiguity there.

      • 0 avatar

        No, actually it doesn’t. It shows voltage read on the accelerator sensor. It shows engine RPM (which is you read in the document is rounded down in 400 RPM increments, ie 750 RPM’s is 400 RPMs, 801 is 800 etc).

        So, if you look, you see in RPMs, 400, 800, 400, 400, 1600 (at .4 secs before crash), 1200 (at crash). Explain to me how that isn’t the engine idling? The voltage read out increases at the .4 sec mark, too, suggesting that is when it was pressed. So, explain to me how this shows the accelerator was pressed UNTIL the .4 sec mark as indicated here. At best, we can say that between -1.4 and -.4 seconds, the accelerator was pressed. Somewhere after the -.4 second mark and impact, the accelerator was not pressed.

      • 0 avatar

        “Page 7 in the linked document clearly shows that the accelerator was pressed the entire time”

        It depends upon how you define “entire time.”

        The car has an automatic, so presumably, there is voltage being produced by the accelerator if the car is in Drive, even if the accelerator is not being depressed.

        Steven appears to be right. It would appear that this is what happened:

        -She was preparing to park at idle — she was not depressing either the brake or the accelerator pedal

        -Sometime between 1.4 and 0.4 seconds prior to impact, she hit the gas, which is evidenced by a simultaneous increase in engine RPM and throttle voltage

        -Realizing her mistake, she then got off the accelerator and hit the brakes. But of course, it was too late — she did this just a fraction of a second prior to impact.

        Probably her fault, although the actual acceleration period itself was very brief. A very typical case of unintended acceleration, with the cause being driver error.

  • avatar

    You did not mention Mr. Ross other great journalistic effort. To “prove” the poor safety of the GM pickup side-saddle gas tanks, Mr. Ross reported on explosions. GM later revealed that “sparking devices” were added to the demonstration to insure an explosion. Harry Pearce, GM general counsel, threatened to sue NBC. NBC later apologized for the mistaken report.
    Toyota needs to take notes.
    Also, engineering work in the press is misleading. If every engineering mistake during development became news reports, the public would be overwhelmed. That is why we have “development”. There are no engineers that just design something, mass-produce it, and have perfect results.

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    CNN is giving muckraking a bad name.

  • avatar

    I’m glad Toyota is fighting back. Even if they don’t have a real case here, they need to send a message and stand up for themselves.

  • avatar

    The images of her swollen leg were unsettling. But I wondered, as she curved her eyebrows in that Katie Couric sympathetic pattern familiar to fans of Oprah and Ricky Lake fans all over the country, what the hell is a woman with such impeccable garage and such groomed appearance doing barefoot in her car?

    Then the images of Camry and Prius appeared and made me very unsettled about my desire to own either hybrid car in the near future.

    If the leg swells, do the hybrid batteries know that an accident is imminent?

    This is very troubling.

  • avatar

    Once again, TTAC comes through. I read this post first, then I read the post on Autoblog. I wanted to start throwing things after I read the other article. Thank you Bertel for actual looking at everything that happened and bringing it all to light. Interesting about how many people seem to miss the point that this was something that was being testing on a prototype and was never sold in the United States.

    • 0 avatar

      Yeah, well, it’s not like Autoblog isn’t above trolling Domestic fans for page clicks.

      And I say this as someone who’s accused Mr. Schmitt of doing the same on a couple of occasions, but AB—and I haven’t been there in a long time—had the formula down pat.

    • 0 avatar

      If you watch the CNN report, they say the same thing.

      • 0 avatar

        “If you watch the CNN report, they say the same thing.”

        They do. But the presentation is misleading.

        In Japan, some guys in lab coats test a cruise control system in a lab, and create a malfunction under controlled conditions.

        In the US, a woman drives her car into a wall. Her car does not have this cruise control system.

        There is no linkage between these two events. Yet the story tries to make one, anyway.

        This is a good example of how “truthiness” works. In this particular case, all of the data is factual and there is no political agenda, but the manner of presentation is designed to confuse the average viewer.

        It is common for news organizations to use an anecdote in order to humanize a story about a data point. In this case, they used this woman’s wall incident in order to tell the story about the memo.

        The problem was that they couldn’t find a good anecdote, so they did the next best thing and got a bad anecdote, instead. It’s very sloppy, and somebody should be embarrassed.

      • 0 avatar

        They also say that this was pre-production and that the system that was being tested was never sold in the US.

        I think they point they were trying to make about the memo was that it should have been turned over to the NHTSA for the SUA investigation and not withheld it. In an investigation against you, you shouldn’t be deciding what is and is not relevant. But, I also agree, that this doesn’t have anything to do with SUA from what happened in the US.

        I honestly think they did a fair job of reporting this woman’s story, and in the end saying she pressed the wrong pedal.

        If anything, maybe they are trying to imply that Toyota wasn’t totally honest in what it turned over to the NHTSA, maybe there is something more.

        But this TTAC piece has FACTUAL errors that Bertel still hasn’t corrected. Honestly, I think the TTAC piece is more misleading that the actual CNN report.

      • 0 avatar

        “I think the point they were trying to make about the memo was that it should have been turned over to the NHTSA for the SUA investigation and not withheld it.”

        What they were trying to do was to stir up some mud.

        The woman’s anecdote has nothing to do with either the engineering report nor TMC’s failure to provide a copy of it to the federal government. It is added for emotional purposes — here’s a perfectly nice lady whose demon car put her into a wall and caused her to hurt her foot, oh woe is her. There was no reason to include it at all, except to sensationalize the piece by adding a runaway-car/human-interest angle to a different and unrelated story.

  • avatar
    Oren Weizman

    Wow … insanely misleading video from CNN, that was spectacularly ridiculous.

  • avatar

    I’m sure CNN will win a Pulitzer for this masterpiece of investigative journalism.

    Sure worked for Scott Templeton.

  • avatar

    Wouldn’t the car have stopped if it had adaptive cruise control? Shouldn’t the story have been about how wonderful it is Toyota is developing a system to prevent drivers from running themselves into walls?

    • 0 avatar

      it did… it stopped in front of the barrier, then they tried to induce failure in gas pedal to see if it will over-ride the radar sensor that has stopped the car… it didnt.

      if anything they should commend the toyota for testing their systems.

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