The Truth About Cars » Sudden Unintended Acceleration http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Fri, 11 Apr 2014 20:20:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.1 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 editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (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 » Sudden Unintended Acceleration http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Lost In Translation: Toyota Threatens To Sue CNN Over Memogate http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/lost-in-translation-toyota-threatens-to-sue-cnn-over-memogate/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/03/lost-in-translation-toyota-threatens-to-sue-cnn-over-memogate/#comments Fri, 02 Mar 2012 13:40:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=433507

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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Review: Toyota Under Fire http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-toyota-under-fire/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/04/review-toyota-under-fire/#comments Tue, 19 Apr 2011 14:15:07 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=391861

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toyota’s Sudden Acceleration: Stop Walking Along The Road Immediately! http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/toyota%e2%80%99s-sudden-acceleration-stop-walking-along-the-road-immediately/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/10/toyota%e2%80%99s-sudden-acceleration-stop-walking-along-the-road-immediately/#comments Wed, 13 Oct 2010 13:29:48 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=368488

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Remember Toyota’s alleged sudden acceleration? And the hysteria surrounding it? Dubious databases were searched for dead bodies. The Secretary of Transportation himself recommended to stop driving your Toyota, and to drive it to the dealer instead – very carefully. Luckless swing club entrepreneurs took to driving a Prius instead, brakes smoking. Lawyers around the nation had wet dreams involving a Gulfstream V (or a 80 foot Sunseeker as a fall-back position.) As nothing of substance was found, the NHTSA asked the august body of the National Academy of Sciences to find the ghost in the machine.

Don’t even bother to look, it’s a worthless search. That’s what Paul Fischbeck, a professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, told the National Academy of Sciences.

The risk of dying in a traffic crash is 1.05 deaths per 100 million miles traveled, says Fischbeck. Analyzing the 2.3 million Toyota vehicles recalled for sticky pedals, Fischbeck said if all of them remained unfixed and on the road, the risk of dying would rise to 1.07 deaths per 100 million miles traveled. People have problems with large numbers, so Fischbeck puts it in perspective:

“If you canoe for half-a-mile you incur a 2-in-a-million risk of dying,” Fischbeck says. “Walking for 10 miles is about the same.”

Canoes must be immediately impounded. They are a menace to society.

According to Fischbeck, who is cited in a Detroit News article, the risk of dying while walking along the road is 19 times higher than that of driving in a recalled, but unfixed Toyota.

Walking along the road must immediately stop.

Fischbeck says it’s important to put the risk of sudden acceleration in context.

For instance, if you drive around in an unfixed Toyota for a whole year, you have the same risk of being killed in the line of duty as a police officer working for 2.5 days.

Get those cops off the streets, now (after they are done rounding up the people who walk along the road.)

The National Academy of Sciences will render its report sometime next year. It will remain interesting. Maybe.

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Nikkei: Toyota Not Out Of The Woods http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/nikkei-toyota-not-out-of-the-woods/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/08/nikkei-toyota-not-out-of-the-woods/#comments Thu, 12 Aug 2010 11:42:18 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=362790

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The Nikkei [sub] reminds Toyota fanpersons and Toyota haters alike that Toyota “still faces uncertain times despite the preliminary findings of a U.S. Transportation Department investigation that indicate driver error may have been a contributing factor.” You mean, that wasn’t the fat lady? You mean, we have to wait for someone more obese?

The DOT says that they aren’t done yet with Toyota. It was an interim report only, and the search for the ghost in the machine continues.

The real ghost-in-the-machine investigations have been outsourced to experts in the search for extraterrestrials and other flummoxing problems, namely the NASA and the National Academy of Sciences. They will take their good ole time before they say something

NASA could release findings as soon as this month or next, but don’t be surprised if they say that “further research is needed.”

The NAS already said that one shouldn’t expect anything from them before next spring. These guys are thorough. Even making nice by pulling out of Iran won’t help. The DOT has Toyota on slow roast. The longer there is Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD), the better for the domestics.

The Nikkei is needlessly pointing out that “Toyota is still having a relatively rough time, with new-car sales in the U.S. slipping 3 percent on the year in July.” However, the brand hasn’t lost its luster: 57 percent.  of new Toyota cars sold were bought by customers who had been driving other brands. “This was the first time since the recalls that the rate has topped 50%,” enthuses a Toyota official.

The Nikkei also reminds us that “back in the 1980s, German automaker Audi AG faced a strong backlash in the U.S. over allegations of unintended acceleration. Even though the transportation department ultimately ruled that the cause was driver error, it took a long time for Audi’s sales to recover.” Ain’t that the truth. And to celebrate that truism, a really bad rendition of “Out of the Woods.”

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NHTSA: Never Mind Throttle-Gate http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/nhtsa-never-mind-throttle-gate/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/nhtsa-never-mind-throttle-gate/#comments Thu, 15 Jul 2010 14:54:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=360911

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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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At Toyota Europe, Silence Is Golden http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/at-toyota-europe-silence-is-golden/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/07/at-toyota-europe-silence-is-golden/#comments Thu, 15 Jul 2010 12:05:31 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=360887

On the back of the news from the NHTSA that they can’t find evidence of Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) electronic gremlins, you’d think that Toyota would be feeling smug about themselves. You’d want to shout this from the rooftops, wouldn’t you? “It’s the drivers, stupid!” If I were Akio Toyoda, I’d show this to Bob Lutz, a bloke who took great delight in knocking Toyota throughout this affair. But what was Toyota’s European division’s reaction to all of this? Humility.

Just-Auto (sub) reports that Toyota Europe declined to comment about NHTSA’s comment yesterday. They decided to hold out until the final results (which could take a few months more) are available for public consumption. “We prefer not to make any comment before we see (the) final results,” said a TME spokesperson in Belgium (where Toyota’s European division is based), “We hope it (results) will be (available) this year – they are speaking in terms of months.” The spokesperson then admitted some Toyota failings: “There have been a few issues that been established such as these sticky pedals and ABS control software that had to be put right although we are not convinced this is an issue…beyond that we do not see any problem with these vehicles.” Is this a sign that this whole affair is causing Toyota’s trademark humility to come back? Or did Toyota’s press office brief the spokesperson very, very carefully? Either way it doesn’t matter. As far as Europe goes, the story hadn’t received much traction anyhow. If the NHTSA findings fully exonerates Toyota, they can’t rest. Toyota still have to deal with, cheapening interiors, controlling bean counters, decontented vehicles, a damaged image, a leaner GM, a rising Hyundai, a more dynamic Ford, bland styling, shrinking market share, large incentives, more competitive market place and stodgy management. Come on, Toyota! Continuous improvement never stops, isn’t that what you say…?

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YATUASU: Yet Another Toyota Unintended Acceleration Story Update http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/yatuasu-yet-another-toyota-unintended-acceleration-story-update/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/04/yatuasu-yet-another-toyota-unintended-acceleration-story-update/#comments Mon, 19 Apr 2010 19:00:25 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=353234

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about how cynical I was becoming about the sudden SUA syndrome with Toyota and how I found it amazing how quite a lot of these cases involve our more “mature” members of society. I used the story of Miss Myrna Marseilles, 76, who crashed her 2009 Toyota Camry (which was fixed the under the recall program), into the wall of a YMCA.

I inferred in the article that this was simply a case of driver error and nothing more and some people agreed with me. Peregrine Falcon bet $20 that this was down to pedal confusion. 210delray reckoned it had “all the elements of pedal misapplication”. Well, Peregrine Falcon, if anyone took you up on that bet, it’s time to collect. We were right.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the police have deemed Miss Myrna Marseilles’ incident a case of drive error. In her original story, Miss Marseilles claimed she the car went through a parking stall, over a kerb and into a wall. She also claimed that the car had accelerated as she tried to brake, But her story didn’t match the evidence. Her trouble was caused by a camera. The parking lot was under the watchful eye of a security camera. Police Chief Steve Riffel said the surveillance video clearly showed that the brake light only came on AFTER the car hit the wall, not before. Miss Marseilles may now be ticketed for this crash, but the police have yet to decide. Toyota may want to use this story to deter their other little problem.

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Toyota: The Battle Of The Papers http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/toyota-the-battle-of-the-papers/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2010/02/toyota-the-battle-of-the-papers/#comments Sun, 14 Feb 2010 12:17:33 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=345288

The Toyota case is heading towards hearings in DC and to courts all over the country. Both sides are putting heavy artillery in position. Both sides of the SUA wars commission heavy caliber studies – both with inconclusive results. Toyota funded a study into the electronics in its vehicles. Before that, a group of lawyers had “sponsored” Safety Research and Strategies, a company that makes money by investigating auto-safety for those suing auto makers. Ford, which had been at the receiving end of an SRS fusillade during the Explorer crisis, called the company “supposed safety advocates who are actually just shills for trial attorneys.”

Here are the latest dispatches from the front lines:

SRS produced a Big Bertha of a 180 page research report, that can be downloaded here (if your Internet connection is up to it – I’m on one of Tokyo’s finest 50 Mbit connections, and I’m still waiting… ah, download completed.) The conclusion of the monster is that “sticking accelerator pedals do not appear to cause the SUA events,” and that basically nobody knows what the reason may be. SRS is pointing fingers at the drive-by-wire system, which they call – duh – “significantly different and more complex than the older, mechanical systems.”

The computer gremlin theory “taps into our almost instinctual fear that our machines will suddenly turn on us,” writes Popular Mechanics. “To judge by press accounts and statements from government officials, those innocuous-looking Toyota sedans and SUVs in millions of American driveways are somehow kin to the homicidal ’58 Plymouth Fury in the Stephen King novel “Christine”—haunted by technological poltergeists and prone to fits of mechanical mayhem.” Primordial fear at its finest.

Washington quickly took advantage of the automotive angst. The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform lobbed a heavy caliber staff memo that says: “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.”

To provide counter-battery fire, Toyota hired the engineering research firm Exponent of Menlo Park, CA, to dig into its computers. Exponent found ”no evidence of problems in the electronics in Toyota and Lexus products,” says their study, that somehow found its way (guess how) to the Wall Street Journal.

Exponent bought six Toyota and Lexus vehicles, all equipped with the electronic throttle-control system. Then they threw all kinds of tests and stresses at the cars. When failures were induced in these sensors, Exponent says the electronic control module detected the problem and took appropriate action.

“Imposing these perturbations resulted in a significant drop in power rather than an increase,” Exponent says in the study. “In all cases, when a fault was imposed, the vehicle entered a fail-safe mode.”

So basically, instead of accelerating like a banshee, the cars on which Exponent performed a vivisection went in to limp mode, just good enough to crawl back to the next Toyota dealer.

Exponent is not finished with their investigation. “Testing and analysis by Exponent will continue for several months,” says the WSJ. So will the trench warfare. Armies of lawyers will record record amounts of billable hours, while the arms merchants of this war will deforest the earth to produce huge amounts of paper.

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