The Truth About Cars » Hearings The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 17 Jul 2014 13:00:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Hearings Ask The Best & Brightest: Should Dimitrios Biller Testify Before Congress? Mon, 01 Mar 2010 22:43:20 +0000

Tomorrow the Senate will be taking its shot at the Toyota scandal, with hearings scheduled before the Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation. Giving testimony will be three Toyota executives including Yoshimi Inaba, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland and Clarence Ditlow of the Ralph Nader-founded Center for Auto Safety. Conspicuously absent from the list is Dimitrios Biller, the former Toyota lawyer who claims that Toyota hid documents related to vehicle design from discovery in several suits against the automaker. The House Oversight Committee has reviewed a number of Toyota communications courtesy of Biller, and a letter from chairman Ed Towns (D-NY) demands that Toyota answer Biller’s charges [Towns' letter and Biller documents in PDF format here, courtesy of DetNews]. By invoking Biller’s charges, Towns has dragged yet another witness into the fray whose story raises more questions than it answers [one of Biller's several suits against Toyota can be found here.] And yet, probably because of his complex backstory] there are no plans for Biller to testify under oath before congress. Should he, or does his testimony just cloud the picture even further?

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The Eternal Quest To Explain The Unknown Sun, 28 Feb 2010 13:26:26 +0000

A quiet Sunday. Time to fire up Google and put in “Toyota AND [cause OR reason].” We come up with ample explanations why Toyota is not called Toyoda.  Or why Peiping turned into Peking, and then into Beijing. What about the causes of sudden acceleration? Let’s see what we find. (If you have other things to do on a  Sunday: We find a lot of questions and no answers.)

ABC News, 11/25/2009: “However, safety expert Sean Kane said the recall doesn’t address hundreds of runaway Toyota cases he has uncovered where owners insist floor mats cannot be blamed. “What concerns me is that this recall still doesn’t get to the root cause of the non-floor mat sudden acceleration cases,” said Kane, who heads the firm Safety Research & Strategies. Overall, the firm says it discovered over 2,000 Toyota sudden acceleration cases involving 16 deaths and 243 injuries. An ABC News investigation revealed that many Toyota owners are in rebellion and have refused to accept the company’s explanation for their sudden acceleration incidents. “

Reuters 2/1/2002: “The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reviewed the automaker’s plan to install new parts in existing accelerator systems or replace them entirely. “Toyota has announced its remedy and based on its current knowledge, NHTSA has no reason to challenge this remedy,” the agency said in a statement. No deaths or injuries are suspected in cases of sticking pedals, the government said.”

Injury Law Blog & News, 2/23/2010: „Of the 2,000 complaints of sudden acceleration, just 5 percent blamed a sticking gas pedal. No government investigation of sudden-acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles has identified a sticking pedal as a potential cause.”

Toyota’s Pedal Recall FAQ, undated: “The issue involves a friction device in the pedal designed to provide the proper “feel” by adding resistance and making the pedal steady and stable. This friction device includes a “shoe” that rubs against an adjoining surface during normal pedal operation. Due to the materials used, wear and environmental conditions, these surfaces may, over time, begin to stick and release instead of operating smoothly.” 1/30/2010: Drops Toyota pedal in bucket of ice water, bakes it, finds no fault. Issues a call to send in pictures or videos of faulty pedal: “How is it that we cannot get a picture of one of these pedals with so many people complaining? It just doesn’t make sense.” 2/18/2010: “Mechanical failure is easier and more transparent to diagnose than an electronic problem. The average garage mechanic might miss out checking the computer micro-processing failures. Service centers usually replace the whole defective unit without some serious investigation on the cause. The management, dealers and mechanics have difficulty in diagnosing rare unpredictable failure in their electronics. The average driver does not really know also the exact problem when their cars computer or electronic gadget malfunctions. It’s hard to check wiring failures, damaged circuit boards and programming in modern cars. Thus, proving that Toyota recall as due to faulty electronics and auto computer system failure might be a difficult task.”

Ron Hart in the Walton Sun, 2/27/02: “ Congress dragged Toyota, kicking and bowing, to Washington to testify in one of the indignant show trials they so love. I wish they would subpoena themselves and bring Congress before a Senate hearing, under oath and under the hot lights of TV cameras. Then we might get to the roots of most problems in America: Too much government intervention, confusing rules, and second-guessing politicians.”

The Korea Herald, 2/13/2010: “Many observers suspect something other than safety concerns behind the harsh response of the United States to Toyota’s recall. To former Kia Motors chairman Kim Sun-hong, the U.S. reaction to the Toyota problem is an act of “killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.” This Chinese proverb illustrates the cruel yet effective tactic of killing one to tame a hundred: As monkeys misbehave in the treetops, annoyed humans violently kill chickens in front of the monkeys. From fear, the monkeys get silent and tamed. Some even fall out of the trees.”

Charlie Rossiter in 2/07/2010: “Now, with the tragedies around the Toyota sudden-acceleration problem, I am reminded once again of how limited driver’s education is for preparing people to drive. It breaks my heart to think that most, if not all, of the tragic deaths that have occurred because of sudden unexpected acceleration could have been avoided if the drivers had only known that putting a car in neutral means that a stuck accelerator can do nothing but race the engine—it can’t accelerate the car. Knowing that simple fact and acting upon it could have saved their lives. It makes me wonder how many people know what to do if their brakes fail. I doubt that many youngsters coming out of drivers ed classes realize that if they shift to a lower gear, even with an automatic transmission, they can slow the car. Would they think to gently try the emergency?“

CNN Money, 2/26/2010: “Up until last month, you’d think there was no need to worry about angering the Japanese. But now that our best and brightest in Congress have done a wonderful job of verbally undressing the CEO of Toyota Motor in front of the entire world, are we biting the other hand that feeds us? ‘We have to be the dumbest borrower around. It’s pretty remarkable. We don’t want to alienate Japan,’ said Haag Sherman, managing director with Salient Partners, an investment firm in Houston. Japan held approximately $768.8 billion in U.S. Treasurys as of December and China owned $755.4 billion. Those numbers were just released last week. ‘$750 million times 2 is a much bigger problem than $750 million times 1,’ said Keith McCullough, CEO and founder of New Haven, Conn.-based investment research firm Hedgeye Risk Management, about the possibility of our two biggest creditors losing interest in our debt. ‘It won’t matter if Bernanke doesn’t want to raise rates. The market may do it for him.’”

Norfolk Daily News, 2/4/2010: “Wrecks involving old cars are a lot like wrecks involving any newly recalled Toyota: far more often than not, the cause is not mechanical. The cause is the driver, and there’s no recall procedure for that.”

Reader totothedog in the (usually heavily redacted) comments section of China Daily, 2/9/2010: “Toyota Pedals Cause Power Cut at Santander. The Spanish bank has bought a string of Poodleville banks in recent months, similar to the way Icelandic banks bought Poodleville’s high street retailers. As a result, Santander which is probably on the same terrorist list as Iceland, has had several computer and power failures in the poodle state. Strangely, no such power cuts occur in Spain. The recurring faults have been traced to pedals installed in the power station which are identical to those used in Toyota cars.”

US Recall News, 2/3/2002: “Toyota recall: Four different causes. So which is it?“

Wikipedia, undated: “The 5 Whys is a question-asking method used to explore the cause/effect relationships underlying a particular problem. Ultimately, the goal of applying the 5 Whys method is to determine a root cause of a defect or problem.”

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An Interrogation – Tales Of Terror From Toyota City Volume 3 Fri, 26 Feb 2010 11:57:53 +0000

No politician worthy of your vote will pass up on the chance of publicly bashing the heads of foreign corporate types with deep pockets. And so, the Senate will convene its Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation next Tuesday. They will repeat this week’s grilling until perfectly good Kobe steak is well done and reduced to dog food.

Tuesday’s cast will consist of familiar faces: Ray LaHood will again “go into the weeds” and hold Toyota’s “feet to the fire” until all cars – well, at least those of Toyota, will be “100 percent safe.”

Smooth Yoshimi Inaba, Prez. of Toyota Motor North America will bring his baritone to bear. The congress casting crew was obviously dissatisfied with Akio Toyoda playing the role of the duplicitous villain. He will not be called and can (phew…) go home to Toyota City.

Instead, the Senate has extended a cordial invitation to Toyota’s Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki to come and get barbecued by the esteemed embers of the committee.  “Sasaki is effectively in charge of making recall decisions at the Japanese automaker,” writes The Nikkei [sub] today, glad that “the announcement ended speculation that Toyota President Akio Toyoda might also be grilled.”

Surely, the elected embers are all students of the great James Madison, who said “The means of defence against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.”

Deep insights, which should always be kept in mind when politicians start pointing the finger abroad during tough times at home. All that perceptiveness will most likely be for naught – again. It didn’t keep Madison from starting the war of 1812, highlights of which were: Trade restrictions that led to the war, the capture of Detroit, and the burning of the White House. Students will also remember how it ended: All were exhausted and went home. Then, a new era of good feelings ensued.

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Shame On You, Rhonda Smith Thu, 25 Feb 2010 22:56:38 +0000

One of the most important lessons to come out of the last two days of congressional hearings on the Toyota recalls is that blaming individuals for unintended acceleration is too tough a task for our elected representatives. And yet the more we learn, the more necessary it seems to take human error into account when dealing with unintended acceleration. Nothing illustrates this quite like the case of the very first witness to give testimony before congress. Rhonda Smith of Sevierville, Tn told the House Energy Committee, under oath, that her Lexus ES350 became “possessed” and that its brakes and transmission failed to respond at precisely the moment that the car accelerated out of control. “Shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. But it turns out that the shame belongs almost entirely with Ms Smith.

The Wall Street Journal [sub] [via Jalopnik] reports that, despite her traumatic and inexplicable experience, Ms Smith sold her dangerous, out-of-control ES350 to another family, which has since put 27,000 trouble-free miles on the vehicle (according to just-auto [sub], Toyota has since taken possession of the vehicle). Which means she either lied under oath, or displayed a disregard for the safety of others that puts Toyota’s missteps into stunning context. Or both. In any case, her behavior adds to our growing suspicion that the vacuous, disingenuous, and self-serving congressional hearings have been the best thing to happen to Toyota PR since the recalls began. Shame on you, Rhonda Smith, shame on you.

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Quote Of The Day: Or Else… Edition Thu, 18 Feb 2010 22:09:32 +0000

There is widespread public concern regarding reports of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota motor vehicles.  There appears to be growing public confusion regarding which vehicles may be affected and how people should respond.  In short, the public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it.  To help clarify this situation, I am inviting you to testify…

House Oversight Committee Chair Edolphus Towns invites Akio Toyoda down to DC for an evening of under-oath testimony and light refreshments. According to the NY Times, Toyoda has said he “would consider” dancing the Potomac two-step “if he receives a formal invitation, which none of the committees have issued.” Consider yourself officially invited, Mr Toyoda. We’ll start making the popcorn.

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Akio Toyoda Getting Ready For A DC Grilling Wed, 10 Feb 2010 21:25:02 +0000

Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda was already getting ready to “visit the United States over massive recalls of its vehicles,” reported the Nikkei [sub]. Japan’s transport minister Seiji Maehara told U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos that Toyoda would be dispatched to DC. There, he would be ready to  “explain the recall problems to the U.S. Congress if asked.”

In a later report, the Nikkei said Toyoda’s trip has been pushed back “to early March.” Toyoda was ready to leave “Japan for Washington as early as Wednesday, but the heavy snowfall in the U.S. capital city ended up delaying those plans. The U.S. House of Representatives has scheduled committee hearings on Toyota’s problems for Feb. 24 and 25, while the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing March 2.”

So far, Yoshimi Inaba, president of Toyota Motor North America, was supposed to appear at the hearings. Today, Representative Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said he’s e is inviting Akio Toyoda to meet members of Congress. Issa also said he is urging his committee’s chairman to invite Toyoda to the February 24 meeting.

Most think that Inaba would be the better witness, but both governments apparently think it’s more appropriate to send the boss himself.

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Toyota Hearing Delayed As Investigation Widens Wed, 10 Feb 2010 14:11:46 +0000

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will have to wait two more weeks to gets its claws into Toyota, as heavy weather has postponed hearings scheduled for today until the 24th. But don’t expect the delay take any of the pressure of Toyota: lawmakers are taking the extra time to widen their investigations. Automotive News [sub] reports that House Energy Committee Chair Rep Henry Waxman (D-CA) has solicited documents from a number of auto insurers after it was revealed that State Farm had warned the NHTSA of possible unintended acceleration in Toyotas as early as 2007. The Energy Committee has scheduled hearings for the 25th.

Meanwhile, Reuters has published one of the most comprehensive pieces we’ve seen yet on Toyota’s “epic breakdown.” Don’t miss it.

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As Hearings Loom, Toyota And Congress Gear Up For Battle Tue, 09 Feb 2010 16:36:56 +0000

Toyota heads up to Capital Hill tomorrow to face the ire of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in a hearing that’s been subtly named “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?” A memo by committee staff [via the WSJ] sets a paranoid tone for the hearing, as the NHTSA investigation widens beyond gas pedals alone:

Attention is now being focused on the electronic throttle control system (ETC) to determine whether sudden acceleration may be attributable to a software design problem or perhaps to electromagnetic interference. The committee staff found numerous complaints made to NHTSA describing sudden acceleration that was not caused by either floor mats or sticky pedals.

Toyota’s Yoshi Inaba will face the brunt of the questioning, although Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA administrator David Strickland will surely face questions about their oversight of Toyota (or lack thereof).

But Toyota and federal regulators aren’t the only folks being given an opportunity to testify before congress. Former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook and Sean Kane of Safety Research and Strategies, Inc have been added to the docket. And you won’t want to skip past their testimony either, as it promises to be some of the juiciest. A recent PBS Nightly Business Report interview with Claybrook reveals her to be an impassioned advocate of tougher auto industry regulation, and a skeptic about Toyota’s claim that electronic systems are not malfunctioning. Kane is likely to be an equally compelling witness, as his firm recently released a comprehensive report [full document in PDF format here] on Toyota’s ongoing unintended acceleration issues, which includes such nuggets as:

there is ample evidence to suggest that neither Toyota nor NHTSA have identified all of the causes of SUA in Toyota vehicles or all of the vehicles plagued by this problem. Of the 2,262 complaints, about half are from drivers of vehicles that haven’t been recalled. The complaint data also show that replacing a sticking pedal or the floor mat will not resolve the problem… absent a mechanical cause, the automaker and the regulators must look more closely at the vehicle control systems, including the electronic throttle control assembly and the associated sensors.

With Kane and SRS Inc’s report hitting the mainstream media, Toyota is tooling up for what promises to be a full-bore assault along these lines of attack. So it comes as no surprise to hear that Toyota has picked up some K-Street backup, hiring Glover Park Group, who Politico calls “arguably the best-connected Democratic lobbying-communications shop in the capital.” Toyota has also signed the Beltway “powerhouse” firm Quinn Gillespie & Associates to handle damage control.

Meanwhile, the NHTSA might want some PR assistance as well. California Republican Darrel Issa laid into the agency, taking aim at its apparent laxness under Bush administration leadership. “With unresolved complaints documenting incidents of unintended acceleration in Toyota model vehicles as early as 2003, I have serious concerns about the agency’s actions under the previous administration,” Issa said in a statement. Issa claims that documents from the NHTSA show a pattern of dismissing unintended acceleration concerns, reinforcing fears of revolving-door malfeasance at the NHTSA first aired in an ABC News investigation.

Ultimately, there seems to be plenty of circumstantial evidence that Toyota has not found a single cause for its unintended acceleration issue and that the NHTSA fared little better. But unintended acceleration is also a mysterious phenomenon, occurring at the intersection of of manufacturer defect and operator error. The likely result will be much congressional harumphing over an issue that might never be conclusively proven. All of which is bad for Toyota and good for competitors like state-owned General Motors and Chrysler. No wonder some are already calling this a “nationalist assault.” Tune in tomorrow for full coverage of the hearing.

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House Launches Toyota Investigation, Hearings Scheduled Fri, 29 Jan 2010 18:14:28 +0000

Staff from the House Energy and Commerce Committee met with representatives from Toyota yesterday, reports Automotive News [sub], as Congress wades into the Toyota recall debacle. According to a letter from the Energy and Commerce Committee to NHTSA administrator David Strickland and Toyota North America Boss Yoshimi Inaba [letters available in PDF format here], the discussions with Toyota were characterized as “helpful,” but that “it left important questions unanswered, including when Toyota learned about this serious safety defect and what actions the company took to investigate and resolve the hazard.” Hearings have been scheduled for February 25, and the Committee’s letter to Inaba requests disclosure of all internal communication related to to the production shutdown, among other company documents.

Meanwhile, on the regulatory front, NHTSA spokesfolks tell BusinessWeek that “NHTSA’s been constantly monitoring the situation and investigating the issue of Toyotas and sudden acceleration, even back to 2007 when they had the other recall on floor mats.” Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood adds  that he has “no criticism of Toyota on this. They followed the law, and they did what they’re supposed to do.” “I don’t know of another time a car manufacturer has stepped up the way Toyota has,” LaHood reportedly told Bloomberg. “NHTSA did exactly what it should’ve done, meet with Toyota and discuss this.”

The disconnect between the response from regulators and the response from congress speaks volumes about the impact of this recall. Though it hardly indicates anything like criminal behavior on Toyota’s fault, the shock of the reigning quality champ taking one on the chin has been a catalyst for the downtrodden domestic automakers (and their congressional investors/allies) to get as much mileage out of the debacle as possible. After all, there’s no downside to hauling Toyota’s bosses in front of a committee: the congresscritters get populist “looking after the consumer” cred, while simultaneously boosting the relative value of the government’s GM investment. Let the spectacle begin!

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