The Truth About Cars » LaHood The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Mon, 28 Jul 2014 18:32:39 +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 » LaHood Quote Of The Day: A Streetcar Named LaHood Mon, 06 Jun 2011 20:10:50 +0000
The National High-Speed Train Network seems to go nowhere, fast. But wait, here’s the next big thing:

“The Obama Administration is committed to putting Americans back to work making the products our nation needs to compete,” said Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want U.S. manufacturers to supply the rails for U.S. streetcars and today’s meeting was a first step toward making this a reality.”

From a DOT press release, dated 6/6/2011, titled “U.S. Department of Transportation Encourages American Production of Steel Rails for Streetcars.”

According to the release, streetcars make “a real comeback in many cities.”


But wait: Can we text in streetcars? Yes?


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ZoneAlarm Accuses U.S. DOT Of Fraud Thu, 07 Apr 2011 14:12:30 +0000

Members of the media and the legal profession who receive regular updates from the U.S. Department of Transportation were in for a shock this morning as they opened the last announcement from NHTSA. ZoneAlarm by Check Point Software, which claims market leadership in the firewall and security business, warns that a DOT press release is a “possible fraud attempt.”

This could discourage many recipients from learning that the 30-second PSA , “Get the Message,” which “features clips from people from across the country who lost loved ones in distracted driving crashes” has received more than 100,000 views on YouTube.

Apparently, the warning is triggered by a little government snooping on who may or may not click on the YouTube link in the press release. Instead on linking directly to the YouTube tearjerker – like so –  the press release routes the clicks through, along with a whale of a  tracking ID.

Once has done whatever it does with the information, it passes the viewer on to the heart-wrenching video of innocent children that were killed by text messages.

ZoneAlarm doesn’t like the sleight of hand and accuses of impersonating YouTube. Or

Ah, the dangers of distracted (or overly nosy) press releases.

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Walking To Your Car Can Be Deadly Fri, 21 Jan 2011 17:33:16 +0000

Ray LaHood is a man with a mission: No distracted driving! No texting. No calling. How about no arguing with the SO?

He’s now talking to the carmakers, says Reuters. Will he take your car electronics away?

He’s no dummy. “The government, which owns a third of General Motors Co and 10 percent of Chrysler following their federally supported bankruptcies,” says Reuters,  “is mindful of heavy handed action against industry that might impact business and jobs.”

So instead of ordering them to turn the gizmos off, LaHood hit them up for money. According to Reuters, he “suggested” companies could sponsor public service or other advertisements on distracted driving. I’m sure they’ll jump to it to get LaHood of their backs.

Here is another mission for LaHood: It can get downright deadly to get to the car. “While the media regularly trumpets the dangers of driving on ice and snow, many people get injured by slipping and falling,” says NBC station KJRH.

“Walking on ice is tricky at best, even for people who live in areas that see a lot of ice and snow. Injuries from falls can be extremely serious, and even potentially deadly. Safety experts say it’s not uncommon to see many more injuries from falls than from auto accidents after a winter storm.”

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Tinfoil Dept.: Ford, The Next Public Enemy? Fri, 22 Oct 2010 10:05:45 +0000

Welcome to Tinfoil Time. A public service for paranoids and their enemies. When the NHTSA went after Toyota for their runaway cars, some people (me, included) saw this as a transparent attempt to undermine Toyota in order to make GM and Chrysler (A.K.A new arms of the US government) more attractive both in terms of purchasing their products and the IPO’s. But now that the circus is leaving town, is the NHTSA looking for a new victim? Whilst searching the net, I saw (part of) an article (sub) which mentions how Ford’s North American market share is on the rise. Sure, Toyota’s market share in the U.S. dropped by 1.5 percent compared to September 2009. But GM did not pick up those sales. They lost 2.8 percent. The winners were Ford (+ 1.4 percent), and Chrysler (+2.1 percent).I also remember a poll that was taken which claimed that how 54 percent of people were less likely to buy a GM car because of their bailout. Rising sales at Ford and bad will towards GM? I’ve seen this scenario before! The next stage is now the NHTSA will tell us to stop driving our Fords. Trouble is, Ford doesn’t have any recalls of recent. So what can the NHTSA do? You recycle a recall.

The Detroit News reports that the NHTSA is urging owners of Fords to have their vehicle checked out over the infamous cruise control fire hazard. The NHTSA claims that only 40 percent of the 14 million+ vehicles which were affected, have come in for service. The industry standard is 70 percent after 18 months. “It appears that there are still far too many people who have ignored the company’s notification to bring their vehicles in for the free repair,” NHTSA administrator David Strickland said, “We’re urging owners of these previously recalled Ford vehicles to take them in to their Ford dealers for this vital repair if they haven’t already done so.” Ford was nothing but supportive. “We support NHTSA in this effort and have communicated extensively with customers in an effort to encourage higher repair rates,” said Wes Sherwood, Ford spokesperson, “We have notified all owners multiple times and continue to notify affected customers of the recall.”

I just find the timing of this “reminder” slightly suspect. This recall has been going on for significantly longer than 18 months. Why is the NHTSA only now reminding people? Why wasn’t Ford in the crosshairs of the NHTSA back when, when the dubious complaint database contained pretty much the same amount of unsubstantiated sudden acceleration allegations against Ford? Is this just a surreptitious way of containing Ford so they don’t get so big they encroach on GM? Yes, I know this is Tinfoil Hat territory, but this just runs too close to the Toyota scenario. Bertel, you got any lithium? My head is aching…. [ED: Sorry, no can do. The Japanese cornered the market. They’ll probably trade it for rare earth …]

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Ray LaHood Grinds His Axe … Again Fri, 10 Sep 2010 09:27:15 +0000

Ray LaHood is great, isn’t he? When that big nasty corporation, Toyota, was building those awful machines that were murdering people and their children in their sleep in the middle of the night, he urged everyone to “stop driving your Toyotas” (Ford also had a problem with unintended acceleration, but LaHood couldn’t go after them with the same vigor as he was busy dealing holding “Toyota’s feet to the fire” at the time). His useful piece of advice led to a calm and controlled recall and gave people the courage to come forward and give their horror stories of how their Toyotas went all “HAL” on them. Then came allegations that Ray and the NHTSA were suppressing a report that confirmed it wasn’t the cars but driver error. Well, Ray knew he was being stabbed in the back but you can’t keep a good man quiet for long…

The Salt Lake Tribune reports Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he wouldn’t be surprised if a review of documents from Toyota revealed additional safety lapses. He also went on to say that Toyota was “safety deaf” and that they made a “huge mistake” by not disclosing safety problems its accelerator pedals. Ray LaHood also said that “This is the first thing that we have found. It may not be the last thing…it would not surprise me if we discovered other information.” Again, I’m not sure that’s true. When NHTSA said they couldn’t find anything wrong with the Toyota cars and maybe, just maybe, the drivers were at fault, I’m pretty sure that surprised the hell out of you.

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NHTSA: Never Mind Throttle-Gate Thu, 15 Jul 2010 14:54:25 +0000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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China: Learn From The Valiant Comrade LaHood! Painfully Penalize Carmakers! Fri, 09 Jul 2010 12:45:11 +0000

Did someone say that the Chinese are good at – how shall we put it – warming up to foreign ideas? Ray LaHood’s revenue-generating ideas must have impressed the hell out of the Chinese. I can just imagine the discussion: “Come on, the Americans raise the penalty from $16.4m to $200m, so why can’t we? It’s in the name of safety. Ni dong bu dong?” Now therefore, “the Chinese government is set to impose much stricter penalties on automakers if they hide problems with their vehicles to avoid recalls,” reports The Nikkei [sub].

So far, automakers got away with a financial slap on the wrist. Under current rules, introduced in 2004, covering up automotive defects can cost a pittance of $4430, max, no matter how many cars are affected. Under newly proposed rules, hiding a defect could downright wipe out an automaker in China.

If approved, the new rules will raise the penalty to up to 50 percent of the total value of  the recalled cars. Yes, you did read right. Say 100,000 cars not timely recalled ( a handful by today’s recall standards,) say $20000 per car, maximum penalty a cool billion dollars. Tong! Tong!

In the land of intentional ambiguity, of course there would be some leeway. The proposal calls for penalties from 2 percent to 50 percent.

So far, it’s only a draft by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine, China’s quality watchdog. The body is soliciting opinions from consumers and manufacturers through July 10 and will finalize the rules based on that input. The State Council, China’s cabinet, may put the regulations into effect later this year. Or maybe not. Automakers (who have a lot of political clout, many are owned by some kind of a government) will not like it. Chinese consumers know that this would make the cars more expensive. China loves a deal. And the Chinese government doesn’t need to shake down carmakers to generate revenue.

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The Shakedown Continues: Toyota Could Cough Up Another $16.4 mil Over 6 Year Old Truck Tue, 11 May 2010 06:36:17 +0000

Talk about timing: While Trans Sec LaHood was in Japan yesterday, ostensibly to look a trainsets, while he toured Toyota instead and uttered dark “time will tell” threats, while he said that his people are still working on the evidence for a second $16.4m federal fine, back in Washington, the timer was set for yet another ticking 16.4 mega-tonne bomb.

The DOT said Monday it will launch an investigation into whether Toyota Motor Corp. waited too long before recalling its T100 pickup truck in the U.S. , reports The Nikkei [sub]. The 6 year old case could cost Toyota the third $16.4m fine. Soon, we’ll be talking about real money.

The allegations: In 2004, Toyota recalled the truck, known as Hilux Surf, in Japan. Steering rods were subject to fatigue, cracks and breaks. In the U.S., the truck wasn’t recalled. Toyota said it was an issue isolated to trucks sold in Japan. A year later, the truck was recalled in the U.S.

Now, NHTSA said Monday that Toyota may have received similar complaints about the T100 truck from U.S. customers in 2004.

Under the TREAD act, NHTSA must be informed about defects within five business days after learning about them. Says The Nikkei: “If the latest probe determines Toyota broke this rule in 2004, the Japanese automaker is likely to be penalized with a new fine.”

It is unclear whether the third fine was mentioned yesterday during the meeting. The second was. Apart from that, LaHood said he and Akio Toyoda had a “candid, frank and serious discussion.” Which is diplomatic double-speak for yelling at each other.

When the U.S. threatened new sanctions against North Korea back in 2003, the talks were “positive, frank and candid.” That was one step below “candid, frank and serious.”

Toyota was the first manufacturer to be hit with the maximum penalty. Assuming non-discriminatorial treatment, other auto maker better start building reserves in case the serial fines set a precedent.

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LaHood Inspects Toyota, Remains Skeptic Mon, 10 May 2010 10:43:28 +0000

U.S. Transport Secretary Ray LaHood is in Japan today. He’s looking at trainsets. Japan is bidding on the U.S.A.’s (long in the) future high speed rail network. So is everybody else in the world, including the Chinese. Good luck to both of them. While in Japan, LaHood personally inspected Toyota’s safety facilities in Toyota City to see whether they are up to snuff. You think Mr. “Feet to the Fire” LaHood gave Toyota a clean bill of health? Think again.

According to LaHood, “time will tell.”

“I believe that they have put in place some measures that will enable us at the Department of Transportation to have a better handle and a better form of information if they’re carried out,” LaHood told a news conference in Toyota. “And what I told Mr. Toyoda today, these measures are important measures but I use the American colloquialism: the proof is in the pudding.”

If that sounds a bit ambivalent, or downright dismissive to you, then you are not alone. Quite possibly, the frightened Japanese already convened a conference of their pastry chefs.

Last month, Toyota agreed to pay a record $16.4 million federal fine as penance for delaying a safety recall over defective accelerator pedals. Currently, U.S. regulators are sifting through 500,000 documents to see whether they can assess a second fine, based on the theory that there were two separate defects in the pedals.

LaHood says the research is still ongoing, and that it “will be a while.” The government needs the money. One fine barely pays for a mile of high speed rail.

Honda and Nissan will be next on LaHood’s visiting schedule, says Reuters.

Mr. Secretary: The trains are built by Hitachi and Kawasaki Heavy.

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Humorous Post Of The Day: Japan And U.S.A. Agree That All Is Well, Toyota Notwithstanding Fri, 30 Apr 2010 13:43:59 +0000

Japanese transport minister Seiji Maehara came to Washington and called on his U.S. counterpart Ray LaHood. Both agreed “that massive recalls of Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles should not hurt the Japan-U.S. alliance and economic relations,” Japanese officials quoted by The Nikkei [sub] said.

LaHood answered Maehara that the U.S. government is treating Toyota in a fair manner, and that Washington is handling the matter based on rules. (Rimshot.) Maehara told LaHood, ”Toyota is a Japanese company as well as a U.S. company with plants in the United States.” (Rimshot.)

LaHood said that it’s all a big coincidence. It just happened to be a Japanese company that became his pet target, and that the problem would not affect the Japan-U.S. relationship at all. (Rimshot.)

It’s no secret that the Obama administration and that of Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama can’t see eye-to-eye. In a scathing analysis, The Nikkei [sub] said that “some officials in the administration of President Barack Obama are privately appalled at Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, believing that he often goes back on his word and that his government can no longer be trusted in negotiations.” Washington is “disgusted” with Hatoyama, says The Nikkei, over “a string of discouraging episodes stretching back over half a year.”

Hmmm, interesting timing. It’s the Okinawa issue.

Hatoyama’s campaign platform included language that Japan’s lockstep alignment with the U.S. foreign and defense policy should end. Ever since his party swept the LDP from power in September 2009, matters got frosty.

It’s been going from bad to worse. At the nuclear summit two weeks ago, Hatoyama was snubbed by Obama. Obama met King Abdullah II of Jordan, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, President Viktor Yanukovich of Ukraine, President Serzh Sargsian of Armenia, even Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. Of course he met China’s Hu Jintao. For Hatoyama, no time.

Instead, it rained invectives. The Washington Post said: “By far the biggest loser of the extravaganza was the hapless and (in the opinion of some Obama administration officials) increasingly loopy Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama.” (Rimshot.)

I don’t put much credence in conspiracy theories. But I also learned to distrust coincidences.

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Ka-Ching: Toyota To Pay $16.4m On Monday. Or Not Sat, 17 Apr 2010 12:29:31 +0000

On April 5, the NHTSA levied their largest civil penalty in recorded history. $16,375,000 against Toyota,  because “they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.” When we reported that, people thought Toyota would just appeal and drag it out. Not so easy, said The Nikkei [sub]. Toyota is between a rock and a hard place: “Admitting to the charge could strengthen the cases of car owners suing the firm, while refuting it risks inflaming U.S. public opinion.”  Toyota found a way out.

According to Japan’s Jiji News Agency, Toyota will pay the $16.4m on Monday morning without admitting any wrongdoing.  According to Jiji, Toyota “concluded that filing a complaint over the penalty would draw opposition from the U.S. government and Congress and further damage its brand image, already hurt by recent massive recalls to deal with the defect.”

Reuters says that Toyota might still appeal if regulators don’t approve the company’s plan of not admitting the allegations.

So what say you? Will LaHood take the money?

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Rough Day At Toyota Tue, 06 Apr 2010 11:26:52 +0000

Last evening, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared he’d be seeking the maximum penalty from Toyota. That’s $16.4m, because “they knowingly hid a dangerous defect for months from U.S. officials and did not take action to protect millions of drivers and their families.” That’s the largest civil penalty the U.S. Department of Transportation has ever sought. According to Reuters, “previously, the largest fine was $1 million against General Motors Co for failing to promptly recall windshield wipers in 2002-2003 model vehicles.” One would think Toyota can pay that out of petty cash. But the matter has Toyota concerned. Plaintiff lawyers are rubbing their hands.

There is no better way to tell the impact and importance of a news item in Japan than taking the fever of the Nikkei wire. One mention a day = no worry. Two mentions = eyebrows go up. Multiple mentions = Red alert!

Today is such a day.

At 9:37 in Tokyo’s morning, The Nikkei [sub] remains sanguine: “Toyota treads water after U.S. fine” is the headline as ToMoCo’s stock is unimpressed and trades at round 3820 yen, higher than the previous day’s close. The matter receives a few lines on the wire, and The Nikkei goes on its merry business.

Half an hour later, Japan is worried. The stock drops to 3750. At 10:38, The Nikkei [sub] sees the matter worthy of a bigger story. “Toyota to face largest civil fine over recalls” is the headline of a lengthy article.

The surprise is buried deep in the article. Flabbergasting U.S. commentators which “expect Toyota to appeal the fine,” as Reuters put it, the Nikkei carries an official Toyota statement “that it is unlikely to lodge a protest against the penalty.” Toyota even ”understands that the NHTSA has taken a position on this recall.” Admission of guilt? Lawyers in the U.S. who are still awake and sober reach for their cells and call their partners: “Did you hear what the nips just said? We’ll be rolling in dough.”

Thirty minutes later, The Nikkei [sub] ticker spits out another Toyota message: “Toyota falls on U.S. fine, S Korea recall.” To add insult to LaHood’s injury, South Korea ordered the recall of 13,000 Toyotas.

Five minutes thereafter, 11:15, The Nikkei [sub] reports that the Japanese government chimes in. It’s taking a wait-and-see position. The U.S. move is ”based on laws in the United States, and therefore it is difficult for the Japanese government to make any direct comment,” says Japanese Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Masayuki Naoshima. That’s Japanese for “we have no idea of what to do, please get lost.”

11:29, the next Toyota News: The Prius was Toyota’s best selling car in the 2009 fiscal year, says The Nikkei [sub]. “So what?” says the market.

11:45, the next Toyota News. Detail on South Korea. Affected are 13,000 Lexus ES350, Camry and Camry Hybrid: Accelerator pedals are getting entrapped by floor mats again. The market is taking a lunch break.

Back from lunch, The Nikkei [sub] reports at 1:09 pm that Toyota is between a rock and a hard place: “Admitting to the charge could strengthen the cases of car owners suing the firm, while refuting it risks inflaming U.S. public opinion.” There are more than 100 lawsuits pending against Toyota. The Toyota stock goes down.

Later in the afternoon, with no other news on the ticker, the stock inches back up to 3775 Yen.

Rough day at Toyota. And a bright morning for lawyers in the US.

“Ms. Dingelfinger, get me some brochures for that 150 foot Sunseeker.”

“Yes, Sir. Gulfstream just called, and are we still interested in that G5?”

“Tell them we’ll call back.”

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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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Toyota: New State Farm Disclosures Trigger Accusations Of Lackadaisical NHTSA Sun, 21 Feb 2010 15:49:52 +0000

Akio Toyoda is spending the weekend in Japan, being prepped for his appearance in front of the modern day version of the tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition, better known as a Congressional Hearing.

According to Reuters, and as suggested by TTAC,  Toyoda “is likely to undergo intense preparation. Toyota may hire lawyers to drill him with mock questions, one consultant said. A company source said it had not yet been decided whether Toyoda would speak in Japanese or English, but the company has already contacted some translation companies.”

The weekend drill was interrupted by the news that State Farm had informed the NHTSA as early as February 27, 2004, that the insurance company had five claims of unwanted acceleration in the 2002 Lexus ES 300 during the previous 12 months. Reuters broke the story, writing “the insurer said earlier this month it had contacted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late 2007. However, prompted by the public interest in Toyota, the insurer reviewed its records again and has now found that it contacted safety regulators initially in 2004.” All hell broke loose …

Hearing that, the DetN immediately dispatched reporters to the DOT in Washington, where they were told by Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair on Saturday that NHTSA was already aware of the issue as early as December 2003.

On March 2, 2004, State Farm sent data on 34 more claims to the NHTSA, including 18 on the 2002 Camry and 11 on the 2003 Camry.  Two days later NHTSA opened a formal investigation of alleged unintended acceleration in the 2002-03 Toyota Camry/Solara and Lexus ES 300.

NHTSA closed the probe a few months later on July 22, 2004. “NHTSA dropped its investigation because it didn’t find a safety defect or any evidence of an unreasonable safety risk,” writes the Detroit News. “NHTSA had six separate investigations into sudden acceleration of Toyota vehicles in the last decade — and required Toyota to do little.”

On hearing the news, Akio Toyoda and his advisers were making up their minds whether this was good or bad for Toyota.  Renegade Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller talks of a “culture of hypocrisy and corruption” at Toyota. If Biller’s subpoenaed documents contain smoking gun residue, then Toyota will be toast.

However, there is a chance that LaHood will land in the hot seat at the hearings. Former NHTSA Chief  Joan Claybroke had said before that NHTSA “were really lackadaisical in pursuing this case. In fact, they knew about it before 2007, there were six investigations by the agency. They were close because they really didn’t find anything. And I think they didn’t look hard enough.”  She also said “I believe that Toyota did stonewall the NHTSA and the public.”

In an interview with  Good Morning America, LaHood denied his agency had been asleep at the switch. We most likely will hear this sentence again on Wednesday:

“On my watch, I’ve been in this job a little bit over a year, safety has been our number one priority.”

And expect LaHood repeating versions of the following:

“Our safety people have been on 24/7 with these people and really held their feet to the fire. And we will continue to do that. We are not gonna let up. We are not gonna get lackadaisical about this. We will stay on this until every car is safe. They know we are watching them 24/7. We are feeling a strong obligation to the driving public, particularly those consumers who are driving Toyotas to make sure that every car is safe. And we will not rest until that happens.”

Speaking of the Spanish Inquisition, in the 5 minute interview, LaHood repeated four times that his agency is “holding Toyota’s feet to the fire.” He seems to miss the good old days when this wasn’t a figure of speech.

Further insinuating that Toyotas are a road hazard, and that a speech writer is polishing his lines, LaHood repeated at a news conference in Los Angeles: “We at DOT and we at our safety agency will continue to work 24/7 and we will not sleep until every Toyota is safe for every American who owns one.”

When LaHood was asked at the conference whether the government stands to benefit as a GM shareholder from its regulatory crackdown on Toyota, and whether there could be a conflict of interest, LaHood reverted to his own self:  “That argument is baloney.”

Just as Toyoda’s advisers are working hard to make their boss look good on the hill, LaHood’s writers will have their work cut out before the Transportation Secretary gets in the cross-hairs.

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Japan’s Ambassador Asks LaHood For “Level Headed response” Thu, 18 Feb 2010 09:23:45 +0000

Public and politicians in Japan are not enthused about Toyota’s latest utterings, especially at yesterday’s news conference. “At home, fiercely loyal Japanese drivers are wondering how a firm with a deserved reputation for quality and reliability could allow substandard vehicles to slip through its vaunted quality-control apparatus,” reports the Christian Science Monitor from Toyko. The natives are getting restless …

The Asahi Shimbun already had flagellated Toyota’s “obtuse reactions to the problems” and warned that “the company has become insensitive to users’ concerns.” Before, words like these would have bordered on treason in a land where Toyota could do now wrong.

After yesterday’s not so stellar show in Tokyo that culminated in the announcement that Akio Toyoda would duck DC hearings, the Japanese government couldn’t take it anymore. Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki announced he had picked up the phone at the Nipponese embassy in Washington and called U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to plead for  “a cool-headed administrative response on Toyota’s recall issue,” as the Nikkei [sub] put it.

“I said I believe the government will handle the issue in an appropriate manner,” Fujisaki said. Hope springs eternal.

In the department of eternal hopes, the Nikkei points out that “Washington plans to promote such infrastructure projects as high-speed railway networks and nuclear power plants. Given that Japanese firms have a competitive edge in such areas, the government’s efforts are expected to help broaden Japanese players’ business opportunities.”  That’ll be the day.

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Quote Of The Day: “We’re not finished with Toyota.” Wed, 03 Feb 2010 09:04:14 +0000
“We’re not finished with Toyota,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in an e-mailed statement to Reuters. Bad choice of words? Doesn’t that sound a tad vengeful? If a 900 lbs gorilla barks “I’m not through with you” at me, then I’m very afraid. Toyota should be too.

Officially, LaHood’s comments referred to renewed efforts at the NHTSA to recheck files from past investigations that found no problems with Toyota’s electronic throttle control system. An Obama administration official leaked to Reuters that safety regulators are continuing to look at the “possibility that electromagnetic interference” might be messing with Toyota’s throttle control systems.

“NHTSA has not seen evidence to support that” said the deep throat. “Yet.”

Toyota will have to testify in two hearings in Washington. Rep Bart Stupak, chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s investigations subcommittee, has scheduled a hearing for February 25. The House Government and Oversight Committee will also hold a hearing on Toyota on February 10. Reuters adds that Stupak’s “home state of Michigan is headquarters for U.S. automakers.”

Does that smell like the beginnings of a witch hunt to anyone?

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