The Truth About Cars » Toyota unintended acceleration The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Tue, 15 Jul 2014 12:00:20 +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 » Toyota unintended acceleration Toyota Reportedly Near $1B Settlement of Unintended Acceleration Criminal Probe Mon, 10 Feb 2014 12:00:43 +0000 37146460

Reuters and The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Toyota Motor Corp. and the United States Department of Justice are close to a deal that would resolve a criminal investigation into how it disclosed to government regulators customers’ complaints about unintended acceleration. The Journal is reporting that the settlement would involve Toyota paying as much as $1 billion in fines, ending a four year investigation. Sources say that the deal could still fall apart, or the amount of money involved could change.

A Toyota spokesperson said in an emailed statement, “Toyota continues to cooperate with the U.S. attorney’s office in this matter. And in the nearly four years since this inquiry began, we’ve made fundamental changes to become more responsive and customer focused, and we’re committed to continue to improve.”

The investigation, launched by the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office, is looking into whether Toyota made false or incomplete disclosures to U.S. regulators about possible car defects. Prosecutors are also looking into possible mail fraud and wire fraud in connection to those disclosures.

The criminal case only adds to what has been a deeply embarrassing incident for Toyota, which formerly had a sterling reputation for reliability with consumers. The company recently settled an economic loss class action suit brought by customers who claimed their cars’ residual values had been harmed by the massive recall Toyota initiated in 2009 in response to the unintended acceleration issue. Toyota still faces hundreds of lawsuits over the matter, including wrongful death suits.

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California Jury Finds Toyota Not At Fault In Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Lawsuit Fri, 11 Oct 2013 15:48:13 +0000 Noriko-Uno-car-after-crash (1)

A Califonia jury ruled that Toyota Motor Corp was not at fault in a 2009 accident in which 66 year old Noriko Uno was killed when her 2006 Camry ran into a tree after being hit by another car. Uno’s survivors blamed the accident and her death on unintended acceleration and Toyota’s failure to incorporate a brake-override system in Uno’s car. This was the first wrongful death lawsuit over accusations that Toyota products could uncontrollably accelerate. The jury found that Uno’s Camry was not defective, instead placing full liability for her death on the driver of the car that hit Uno before she sped the wrong way down a one-way street and into the tree. Uno’s survivors were awarded $10 million.

The Uno case is seen as a bellwether for the outcomes of about 85 addition wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits filed in California state courts in the aftermath of millions of Toyotas in 2009 and 2010 to address reports of sudden unintended acceleration. Items addressed in those recalls included floor mats getting stuck under the gas pedal and possibly faulty pedal assemblies. 2006 Camrys, like the one Ms. Uno was driving, were not included in those recalls.

A Toyota spokesperson said that the company was pleased with the jury’s verdict. “We are gratified that the jury concluded the design of the 2006 Camry did not contribute to this unfortunate accident, affirming the same conclusion we reached after more than three years of careful investigation — that there was nothing wrong with the vehicle at issue in this case. We believe this verdict sets a significant benchmark by helping further confirm that Toyota vehicles are safe with or without brake override.”

Toyota has also won personal injury cases arising from the unintended acceleration issue in New York and in Pennsylvania. Another trial is underway in Oklahoma, and cases are set for trial in Michigan early next year and in federal district court next month in California, where about 200 wrongful death and personal injury suits against Toyota are pending.

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Toyota’s Jim Lentz Testifies in Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Suit Wed, 28 Aug 2013 16:09:49 +0000 37146460

After losing a motion to prevent him from appearing, Toyota Motor Corporation’s CEO for North America, Jim Lentz took the witness stand in a lawsuit filed by the survivors of a woman who was killed when her Camry allegedly sped out of control and hit a tree after it was hit by another car, whose driver is a co-defendant in the case. One issue in the court case is why Toyota did not equip Noriko Uno’s car with a brake override system that automatically closes the throttle when the brakes are applied.

Bloomberg reports that Lentz answered questions posed by the plaintiffs’ attorney in regard to how the company marketed the system when it did start making it available. Toyota branded the system as “smart stop”, apparently rejecting “safe stop”, according to internal Toyota documents plaintiffs obtained as part of the discovery process.

Lentz said that the reason why the company chose “smart” instead of “safe” was to avoid promising more than they could deliver. “I made clear to the marketing department that it had to be something that didn’t overpromise,” Lentz said. “Safe stop or sure stop was overpromising because it wouldn’t necessarily stop the acceleration in all cases.”

The Uno case is the first of about 85 personal-injury and wrongful-death lawsuits filed against Toyota in California courts regarding supposed unintended acceleration. The company has already settled an economic loss class action suit at a cost estimated to be $1.63 billion. That suit was about the value of used Toyotas declining due to the massive recalls the company initiated to address the issue.

Among other actions in the recall, Toyota installed brake override system software on the recalled models and started equipping all of its new production cars with the override system. The plaintiffs pointed out that Toyota had started installing the system on some of its European modes in the early 2000s and questioned Lentz on why it was not featured on its U.S. models. Lentz said that he only knew of one European Toyota that featured a brake override.

Also testifying Tuesday was an expert witness who testified that Uno was hospitalized for vomiting blood and being dizzy and light-headed on two separate occasions before her fatal accident. Toyota argues that Uno’s cognitive abilities were impaired by her diabetes and liver conditions. Before she hit the tree, following the initial collision with another car, she drove the wrong way down a one-way street.

Toyota has said Uno’s diabetes and liver conditions impaired her cognitive abilities and caused her to drive down a one-way residential street into oncoming traffic after being hit by another vehicle.

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First Toyota Unintended Acceleration Wrongful Death Trial Begins Fri, 09 Aug 2013 14:23:48 +0000 Noriko-Uno-car-after-crash

The first wrongful death lawsuit concerning the sudden acceleration of Toyota cars to go to trial has started with opening arguments. According to Bloomberg, the lawyer for Noriko Uno’s family said that Toyota knew that their gas pedals could get stuck and that the company was liable for her death because Uno’s 2006 Camry did not have a brake override system. The Toyota that Uno, 66 at the time of her death, was hit by a car that ran a stop sign. Her Toyota subsequently accelerated down the wrong side of the road for 30 seconds before hitting a tree, causing her death.

Last month Toyota agree to settle, for $1.63 billion, an economic loss class action lawsuit filed by owners of Toyotas who claimed their vehicles’ value had depreciated after Toyota recalled over 10 million cars to address the unintended acceleration issue. While the car company has settled out of court with some claimants, the Uno case is the first to actually make it to a courtroom. About 85 personal injury and wrongful death suits have been consolidated in Los Angeles Superior Court.

Noriko Uno

Noriko Uno

The Uno family is seeking $20 million in damages, claiming that Toyota should have installed a brake override system that forces the engine’s throttle to return to the idle position when both the brake and gas pedals are depressed. When Uno’s car was manufactured, Toyota had already implemented brake overrides on models sold in Europe.

Toyota’s lawyers insist that Uno was at fault because she stepped on the gas, not brake, pedal and that a brake override system wouldn’t have prevented her death, the automaker claims, because she never tried to use her brake. In his opening statement, Toyota lawyer Vince Galvin said, “This is not a stuck-pedal case, it’s an alleged stuck foot case.” The plaintiffs allege that Uno’s right foot got stuck between the gas and the brake pedals, causing her to accelerate as she tried to brake with her left foot, a claim that Toyota says is not possible.


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So Cal Prosecutors File First Consumer Protection Suit Against Toyota Fri, 12 Mar 2010 22:41:45 +0000

Reuters reports that Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas along with private attorneys filed the first U.S. consumer protection lawsuit against Toyota USA. The main charge is that Toyota has endangered the public by selling defective vehicles and engaged in deceptive business practices. From the 18 page suit filed Friday morning:

“Against this backdrop of fraud and concealment, Toyota has for decades touted its reputation for safety and reliability and knew that people bought its vehicles because of that reputation and yet purposefully chose to conceal and suppress the existence and nature of defects,”

The suit seeks to restrain Toyota “from continuing to endanger the public through the sale of defective vehicles and deceptive business practices.” Toyota said it has no immediate comment.

Rackauckas is a Republican who is also up for re-election this year. He defended his hiring of private attorneys, and said that they will be paid out of any proceeds from the lawsuit. One lone protester at the courthouse insisted that the suit was being done for political gain.

Rackauckas told reporters he was becoming increasingly concerned about the safety of consumers and that his office has jurisdiction because Toyota’s U.S. headquarters is in California.

The suit charges that Toyota knew about the defects in “selling and leasing hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks with defects that caused sudden unexpected and uncontrollable acceleration.”

From the Detroit News:

Legal experts said they were surprised by Rackauckas’ suit. “It’s very unusual for a product liability matter to turn into a criminal or consumer fraud investigation,” said Robert Mintz, a former federal prosecutor now a partner with McCarter & English in Newark, N.J.

Ed Higgins, co-head of the product liability practice group at Plunkett Cooney in Detroit, said the county’s action was “extremely uncommon.”

And thus it begins. Or continues.

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NHTSA Data Dive 4: Did Toyota Recall The Wrong Cars? Mon, 08 Mar 2010 19:48:43 +0000

When it comes to mountains of data like the NHTSA vehicle complaint data base, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure(trove).  Yes, there are limitations. But the remarkable degree of similarity of the UA rate between most badge engineered cars, and GM’s consistently low UA ratings speak of statistical relevance to some of us. One of those is David Lapidus, (TTAC handle: David42), whose data diving and Excel skills vastly overshadow mine.

In the last data dive, I used numbers from Edmunds to come up with a UA complaint rate for 117 cars from MY 2005-2010, excluding the flurry of complaints filed with NHTSA after the Toyota mat recall 0f 9/29/09. But those are cumulative, over the five years. David has taken it to the next level, to the individual model year. We may come back to the whole list another time, but initially we decided to focus on the Toyota Camry, since its large volume of sales and UA complaints would inherently increase the statistical accuracy of the numbers. And although this data dive may not solve the UA puzzle, it does raise serious questions about the most recent recalls and the Congressional barbecue of Toyota. David sifted and examined complaints going back to 1995 (and cut off after 9/29/09) for all 1995 and newer MY Camrys for all UA incidents (vehicle speed control including the following areas: accelerator pedals, cables, cruise control, linkages, springs).

This following chart lets us read the annual complaint history for each model year:  for each model year, it shows how many complaints were filed per calendar year.  For example, in the upper-right corner you can see a bubble labeled with the number “11.”  (It’s all the way to the right, second from the top).  This means that for model year 2007 Camrys, people filed 11 complaints in calendar year 2009.

Some observations:

  • Among recalled cars (MY 2007-2010), only MY 2007 looks problematic.  That is the first year of the CTS pedal, as well as a new physical pedal design that could cause mat entrapment.  Yet model years 2008 and 2009 have barely any complaints at all.  Specifically, MY 2007 Camrys have 89 complaints (19 + 70) in the first two calendar years.  MY 2008 has only 7 complaints (3 + 4).  And though there’s only one year of data for MY 2009, the ONE complaint for that MY hardly suggests that the accelerator pedals or floor mat issue was a common UA issue with actual users.
  • There is/was obviously a serious problem with the previous-generation Camry (2002-2006).  MY 2002 was the year the first e-pedal was introduced. But its design was completely different from the CTS or Denso units used after 2007. And its physical pedal shape made mat entrapment unlikely, if not impossible. (I have taken detailed pictures of these various vintage pedals). We don’t know the specific nature or how serious the problem in the complaints is. (Complaints can be filed for causing anything from a minor inconvenience to death.)  We DO know that the 2002-2006 models caused an average of 2.2 to 3.9 injuries per calendar year.  That’s far more than the supposedly-dangerous 2007 model year cars, which caused an average of 1 injury per calendar year.
  • For most (but not all) model years, the second year is the worst.  Perhaps this tells us something about when the problematic component is most likely to fail.

Now here’s a simpler chart that shows only the year the complaint was filed—all model years are lumped together.  So it’s easy to see that the number of Camry complaints spiked in 2004, and stayed pretty high until 2007 (especially compared to the Honda Accord):

Now here’s the strange thing:  In 2008 and 2009, complaints dropped back down to the pre-2002 level.  It’s as if all the Camrys were suddenly cured, just before the recall and untold billions chopped from Toyota’s market capitalization. And what exactly was going with those MY ’02-’03 Camrys? That’s no statistical fluke. Whatever was wrong with them, how come they stopped generating complaints in 2008 and 2009? Can anyone help us make more sense of these numbers? We promise to share that one million dollar prize.

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TTAC’s NHTSA Data Dive: 95 Cars Ranked In Rate Of Unintended Acceleration Complaints Sat, 27 Feb 2010 05:46:51 +0000

[Update 3: This post is now officially obsolete, having been supplanted by the much more accurate update here]

[Update 2: In a new post, I have noted that 53% of Toyota UA complaints were filed after the mat advisory was issued on 9/29/09. The number used her are not adjusted for that. As soon as they are available, I will redo this spreadsheet, using more accurate sales stats]

[Update ans Disclaimer: As I noted below, this spreadsheet will be updated when I can access actual sales stats from our source, Morgan and Co. on Monday for the years ('05-'10) covered. That will very likely change the rankings somewhat. The Lincoln may actually be #2. But this is not about which car is #1 or #2; it's about finding patterns in certain makes, and within makes. It's an attempt to see if these statistics can shed light on a complex and opaque issue. As an example, why the Toyota Yaris is so low in reported incidents. It's more about these patterns and discrepancies, than about singling out the car with the highest rate, so please don't take the current exact rankings as the final word. It's a work in progress. The fact that the complaints are not tabulated by individual MY also limits this substantially, as running changes in a given car during the five year period will change things significantly. So this data dive is fundamentally flawed; take it as such. But nevertheless, it's still a huge step over the raw data that Edmunds put out, which doesn't begin to account for the number of any given cars sold.]

Numbers and statistics are largely useless without context. took a first good step in going through NHTSA’s data base and reporting the number of UA events reported per make, brand and vehicle. But what was obviously missing was the correlation to the number of cars on the road in relation to those numbers. We’ve taken the next (tedious) step, and the results are most interesting indeed. They’re certainly not completely conclusive, but we’re not finished yet. The full list of 95 cars follows, as well as our methodology, a stab at some analysis, and more questions to still be answered.

First, our methodology. Edmund’s NHTSA data was for model year 2005 – 2010 cars, to date. Lacking easy complete sales data, I’ve taken the 2008 MY sales for these vehicles, and multiplied by five to arrive at a working number. If detailed sales numbers are to be found, I will update them. But I doubt it would change the numbers significantly.

Obviously, the cars that had lower numbers of events reported are going to be statistically less reliable. And unless we go back to the NHTSA and mine the original data, if that level is available, we don’t know what type of UA event was reported. Was it a likely wrong pedal application, which typically happens at low speeds and often in parking lots (hopefully not near a cliff)? Did it come on after merging into a freeway? Having that level of detail would allow us to make further assumptions, especially if certain cars had higher incidents of a particular type of UA event.

The other thing is consider whether the given vehicle had brake override or not. On the one hand, it’s interesting to note that no European brands were reported, and they pretty much all have brake override. But then so does Chrysler, and several of their cars, especially certain Jeep models, had fairly high rates of reported UA.

There are other factors to consider, like the demographics and use of the specific vehicles. I suspect strongly that the Lincoln TC, the Grand Marquis and the Crown Vic all have the same mechanical and electronic systems. Yet the TC came in #1, the Marquis #9, but the Crown Vic at #32. Is the high proportion of CV use in taxi and police service an issue here? And what are the TC and Marquis owners’ median age?

So many questions and so few answers: Ford, which does not have brake override, had some models fairly high on the list, but the popular Fusion was very low with a rate of .005, and its sibling Milan with a .006. The fact that these virtually identical cars came in so closely gives support to these statistics being reasonably accurate. Other examples are GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado at # 95 and #96. And the Malibu and similar G6 are at #84 and #88.  But then when it gets down to such few reported events, randomness increasingly becomes a factor.

GM’s low UA rate is undeniable: their highest car is the Cadillac DTS, at #40. It also has a notoriously high median age of its owners. The mechanically related Lucerne and Impala are not far apart, with the Lucerne being somewhat higher and undoubtedly having an older median age of its owners. I’m conjecturing here, but the numbers tend to bear it out.

Clearly, Toyota vehicles are skewing to the upper end of the range, although the Corolla/Matrix is down at #38. And the Yaris is very low on the list at #79. What exactly puts the Lexus ES 350 at such a high rate is certainly worth exploring, especially since it was involved in the two must publicized UA events. Its general mechanical similarity to the Camry is well known; without breaking out the types of events the ES 350/330 has been involved with, its difficult to say. But additional information would be indicative, since the Camry is not all that high on the list at #11. Are Lexus floor mats thicker and deeper than the Camry’s? Are the electronics substantially different? Are Camrys imported from Japan involved at higher rates? ( all Lexus ES models are also imported).

The questions go on and on. I will continue the quest of turning up statistics that shed further light on this issue. And your comments , analysis and questions will be most appreciated and helpful. One thing: keep in mind that these are only those cars that had UA incidents reported to the NHTSA (actually, I removed a few out-of production cars from the list). Missing of course are all those cars with no reported incidents, including whole brands, like Hyundai, Kia, Mazda, Subaru, Volvo, and all the Europeans (except Saab). Did I miss someone significant? Full list follows:

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