The release of A Road Forward: The Report of the Toyota North American Quality Advisory Panel [PDF], probably raised a few eyebrows around the industry this week, particularly at the headquarters of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers in Washington D.C… but not for any obvious reason. The report’s findings about Toyota’s internal reforms in the wake of last year’s recall scandal aren’t particularly mind-bending, and are well summarized in an introductory passage
First, the Panel believes Toyota needs to continue to adjust its balance between global and local control giving weight to local control in order to improve its communication and speed in responding to quality and safety issues. Second, the Panel believes that Toyota needs to ensure that it listens and responds as positively to negative external feedback as it does to negative internal feedback. Third, the Panel believes that Toyota must persist in more clearly distinguishing safety from quality and continue its efforts to enhance its safety practices and procedures.
In addition to identifying specific areas for improvement, the report places a heavy emphasis on “the leadership of Toyota’s top executives as they navigate the road forward, as well as the company’s leadership in the industry” as a way to avoid the traps it fell into prior to the recall scandal. And this emphasis on leadership could have some interesting effects…
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.
Over the weekend, Chinadaily [via CarNewsChina] reported that China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine had halted imports of Jeep Wranglers due to what was reported as
fires [caused by] a problem in the vehicles’ automatic transmission and related systems.
And though for some this story’s value may begin and end with the ironic humor value of China recalling unsafe American products, there’s more to this than meets the eye. As it turns out, NHTSA has investigated a suspiciously similar transmission-related fire risk in Wranglers, and made Chrysler fix it. What’s not clear is why China-bound Jeeps don’t appear to have received the upgrade that US regulators required for American-market sales.
The story of Dimitrios Biller has been one of the more colorful sideshows in last year’s media-scourging of Toyota, complete with a “book of secrets,” accusations of corporate criminality, counter-accusations of mental instability and a congressionalpissing match. But with the Toyota media circus long gone, it now seems that l’affaire Biller was just another distraction from the mundane truth of the unintended acceleration scare. As the Detroit News reports, Biller and Toyota’s legal struggle is over… and Toyota, not Biller, is going to get paid.
Biller, a California attorney who worked at Toyota Motor Sales USA for four years, from 2003 to 2007, and Toyota had agreed to have their disputes settled by binding arbitration, which limits the grounds for appeal.
Biller had sued Toyota for defamation and fraud, while Toyota had sued him for violating confidentiality and severance agreements.
Gary Taylor, a retired judge serving as the arbitrator, concluded in a final award that Toyota should receive $2.5 million in damages from Biller for 10 disclosure violations, plus $100,000 in punitive damages.
“The evidence showed that Toyota suffered, and will continue to suffer, multiple harms from Mr. Biller’s contract breaches,” Judge Taylor wrote.
He also ordered Biller to return documents, including attorney-client documents, he’d taken from Toyota and allow the company to inspect his computers.
The AP [via Google] reports that Toyota’s board has voted to pay $32.4m on top of the $16.4 it already paid the US Department of Transportation in connection with its handling of several recalls. The first involved Toyota’s handling of gas-pedal entrapment by floormats in its vehicles that were part of the Unintended Acceleration scandal earlier this year. The other involved steering rods in certain 4Runners and T-100 pickups that were not recalled despite a 2004 Japanese market recall for the same parts on Hilux pickups.
Bloomberg reports that a lawsuit accuses Toyota of a widespread coverup of unintended acceleration in its vehicles. The suit alleges that
“Toyota technicians” confirmed that vehicles were unexpectedly accelerating and the company bought back the vehicles, had customers sign confidentiality agreements and didn’t disclose the problems to regulators… In testimony about acceleration defects before Congress, Toyota Motor Corp. didn’t disclose that the technicians had replicated instances of sudden unintended acceleration not caused by pedals or mats… The company also didn’t report the customer agreements to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration… Toyota ordered employees to remove names of executives from acceleration related e-mails and to stop using specific acceleration terms in e-mails to prevent damage to the company in litigation
Steven Curtis, a spokesman for Toyota’s U.S. sales arm in Torrance, California, said today in an e-mail that no technicians for the company or field specialists confirmed unintended acceleration in vehicles. He said the plaintiffs’ lawyers are referring to service technicians employed by dealerships, which are independent businesses… the claims are based on anecdotes and fail to identify any specific defects in the vehicles.
Plaintiffs claim that dealer techs are “agents of the company” and that vehicle repurchases and confidentiality agreements are proof positive of a coverup. Toyota admits that it investigated and repurchased two vehicles after dealer techs found “acceleration events,” but says its factory technicians were unable to replicate any problems. If this sounds like a complicated mess of he-said-she-said, consider that this suit is just one of 300 currently pending against the world’s largest automaker. The lawyers will probably be busy with this one for decades.
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. (Read More…)
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… (Read More…)
Do you remember when Saturn made a last ditch attempt to bring customers back to their showrooms? It asked us to “Rethink” Saturn. Whatever our perception was of them, we almost certainly had it wrong and we had to check them out once more. Ford did a similar thing with “Have you driven a Ford lately?” It’s quite a clever strategy, convince the customer that they had it wrong about your product and invite them to try them again. Well, Toyota seems to trying a similar tactic in order to woo customers back and polish up their corporate image. Now at this point you’re expecting me to unveil some hokey advert which asks us “Try Toyota” (if Toyota is reading this, give me a call and we can work out a licensing fee for my ad slogan). Wrong. It’s not their products. They are fine.
Toyota asks us to rethink the meaning of recall. (Read More…)
This isn’t so much a news item as a “Congress finally figured it out” item. A preliminary report by the National Research Council, recently revealed to congress, shows that of 58 Toyota “black box” event data recorders from crashes which occurred during the recall scandal
35 showed that at the moment of impact, the driver hadn’t depressed the brake pedal at all. Fourteen more showed partial braking, while nine showed the brake depressed at the “last second” before the crash.
There were a handful of other results where the brake was pressed early and let go, or in which both the gas and brake pedals were pressed at the same time. There also was one case of pedal entrapment by a floor mat.
In five cases, the electronic recording device failed to work.
An anonymous Toyota Tech sent us these recent images of a 2008 Prius and its highly questionable pedal-floormat interface. Did nobody tell this guy that Toyota has had some problems with floormat pedal interference, and that there had been a recall? Did he somehow miss the months-long media frenzy? This is yet more proof that there is literally no way to completely prevent unintended acceleration, even if the problem has been identified and a recall has been issued. Remember folks, when it comes to cars only you can keep you safe.
Carquestions noticed a troubling issue with the latest Wall Street Journal report on the investigation of Toyota’s black-box data: the report cites its anonymous source as saying that “black box” event data recorders (EDRs) can lose their data if disconnected from the battery. Carquestions points out that this is not the case, cites the appropriate regulations and concludes that it sounds like this source doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. Meanwhile, Jalopnik is running with the story that Toyota planted the story… but then, why would Toyota imply that its own black boxes don’t meet regulatory standards? Especially when Toyota’s official comment is that it has yet to draw any conclusions from the investigation. For a story with such a logical conclusion (yes, most people are bad drivers) this is all getting a bit complicated.