By on November 14, 2009

Acessory after the fact... (courtesy:cheersandgears)

CBS’ Marketwatch reports from Tokyo (or more accurately, blogs the Japanese Business Daily Nikkei’s reporting) that Toyota is going to change out accelerator pedals in US market vehicles in hopes of putting the issue behind them. “Toyota Motor Corp. will make changes to gas pedals in certain U.S. models under an agreement with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to a published report, in response to accidents blamed on the accelerators getting stuck to the floor mats. Toyota still maintains that the vehicles are not actually defective. But to settle the potentially image-damaging issue, it will change the gas pedals so they are less likely to get stuck. The work will be handled through dealerships, Japanese business daily Nikkei reported Saturday.” Interestingly enough, nothing is said about non-US market vehicles.

Think this is the end of the story? Neither do I. But I’m sure David Kiley over at Business Week thinks this it’s all good. A few weeks ago he wrote that the Toyota Mat Mess would “end up being a positive for [the] brand”. His argument was that hey, Audi survived and is doing well, so this must mean good things for Toyota as well. Although the NHTSA seems to be onboard with the floor mat theory, many owners are still not buying it. This one isn’t over by a long shot.

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30 Comments on “Toyota: What Floor Mat Issue?...”

  • avatar

    Changing the design of the accelerator pedal and having dealers swap them out seems to be an expensive way to do something that could more cheaply be done in software.  A simple change to the car’s computer that closes the throttle to the idle position when the brakes are pressed would be cheaper and more effective.  Alternatively, they could just rivet people’s floor mats to the carpeting below.
    I doubt non US cars will be modified, considering most other places are not as litigious as we are.  It’s unbelievable that just because a car that had the *wrong model* of floor mats installed by the dealer had a stuck pedal resulting in a crash that a manufacturer would feel obligated to do a recall.  The accident, while tragic, was clearly the result of multiple operator errors (the dealer put in the wrong floor mats, likely to avoid getting the original ones messed up so they could subsequently sell the loaner car at a higher price; the driver and his 3 passengers failed to shift the car to neutral).

    • 0 avatar

      Ever hear of D-FMEA or poke-yoke?

      It is incumbent upon the OEM to take customer usage profiles into consideration and to design the product accordingly.

      Blaming the customer is never the right answer.

      I expect that Toyota will (eventally, voluntarily, or under government order) have to replace these assemblies in other countries too…

      • 0 avatar

        Do we know if you are at WOT and 100mph that the car will let you change gears?
        Every automatic-equipped car lets you do this, and certainly the Toyotas in question.  You can slap the car into neutral—it’s a safety feature in every AT for the last several decades.  The problem in some fatalities is that the drivers likely a) panicked and/or b) aren’t confident in how to use a manumatic or gated shifter.

    • 0 avatar

      You are assuming the driver could put the car into a different gear.  Do we know if you are at WOT and 100mph that the car will let you change gears?  Maybe it won’t because the manufacture doesn’t want you to damage the transmission.  I agree, he could have also turned off the car, which isn’t necessarily straight forward if you aren’t familiar with that system.  By why was he in this position anyway?  Because the car was accelerating uncontrollable.
      You should also learn more about the problems here.  There was one woman who ran into the car in front of her at a red light.  She says she took her foot off the brake, and the car accelerated quickly.  Another man ran the car through his garage.  What is sad that is took someone dieing when this problem has been reported several years ago.

  • avatar

    YotaCarFan, it’s not just one car, there are numerous complaints of unintended acceleration.  The quadruple fatality just put it on the public radar.

    Also, the press release says Toyota “will make changes to gas pedals,” not that it will replace them.  Maybe they’re just going to saw off the bottom part?

    The hardware in the car (PCM / ECU) may not support “smart pedal” software.  (I’m not saying they shouldn’t retrofit it, just saying that it may require replacing the cars’ computers to do it.)

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    The large number of incidents reporting brakes catching on fire, or nearly so, indicates the vehicles’ drivers were applying the brakes, not the accelerator.  Even if mispositioned floor mats are the primary cause (and not electronic engine controls as many have argued), Toyota needs to address the associated concern of brake failure at full throttle.

  • avatar

    A few more accidents and the crisis will begin again. Just fix the defective computer control system and stop acting like GM and Ford. I doubt a floor mat makes a hybrid Lexus accelerate to 100 mph for over a mile. If 60 minutes gets a hold on this story Toyota’s honeymoon in the US market will be over.

  • avatar
    Telegraph Road

    I doubt CBS 60 minutes will touch this story.  Yes, they destroyed Audi for two decades, but the blowback still wounds CBS today, deservedly.  And Dateline NBC may not touch it either, for fear of recalling memories of strategically-placed incendiary devices under GM side-saddle pickups.  That leaves just ABC News, but Brian Ross is no Mike Wallace.

  • avatar

    If people do not install the floor mats correctly, it is not toyota’s problem. Afterall, you can’t make cars idiot proof.  I have owned several toyotas and never had a floormat come loose. They need to check the safety interlock to make sure that the engine does slow down if the brakes are locked.  I think that this thing is being way over played by the media and the regulator agencies.  If you floor mat is a problem, take it out and return it to the dealer.  But there are people out there that can have problems drinking water. Go figure!!

    • 0 avatar

      You can’t make a car idiot proof true.  But there are a few problems with the design.  The pedal is too low.  You mentioned the problem about the brakes being pressed at WOT not working.  The bottom line, it is a safety hazard when an incorrectly installed floor mat causes accidents and fatalities.  Ask any design engineer, you can’t plan for everything, but this is one thing that they should have caught.
      The worst part of this, it took 6 years and a fatality before a real investigation takes place.  I blame that squarely on the NHTSA.

    • 0 avatar
      Jeff Puthuff

      It’s not the floormats! See this post we did last April:
      Watch the video; the floormat’s nowhere near the accelerator pedal.

  • avatar

    I haven’t checked this out, nor have I seen this issue addressed: Are any of the “runaway Toyotas” equipped with a manual transmission?

  • avatar

    I kind of feel sorry for Toyota in a strange way.  Toyota, cmon get a grip.  Trim your budget and focus your attention.

  • avatar

    To me this is much ado about nothing (except to the people who died, I know). This is not a flaw in the car itself, and the solution is very simple – REMOVE THE FLOOR MAT. Problem solved. Floor mats are not essential to the safe operation of the car, they are a convenience.
    The problem in that horrible accident was that the WRONG floor mat was installed in the car by the dealer and that the driver was unfamiliar with the car.
    Redesign the floor mat tabs and maybe the pedal for new production and move on.

    • 0 avatar

      I had a buddy who sold carpet, and would give me outdated samples to use as floor mats in my cars. Since these were pretty large samples, I cut them down (sometimes poorly) and stuffed them in the car. I had a 5.0 liter/automatic Mustang back in the day with just these mats in them. One evening while hooning around, I managed to somehow get some of the fibers wrapped around the gas pedal and when the car didn’t slow down after letting off of the pedal, I panicked and did the only thing I could think to do which was to stomp on the brake pedal. It took some effort, but I did get the car stopped. The salient point here is that the service brakes stopped the car.
      If the reports of these Toyotas catching their brakes on fire are true, then this is something much more involved than just a floor mat. This same issue was confirmed during the investigation into the Audi ‘unintended acceleration’ incidents, that the standard braking systems will stop the car, no matter how wide open the throttle is. I doubt a redesign of the mats and gas pedal are going to solve this issue. 

    • 0 avatar
      John Horner

      My Spidey sense says something besides just floor mats is going on here.

    • 0 avatar

      If the reports of these Toyotas catching their brakes on fire are true, then this is something much more involved than just a floor mat.
      It’s possible, but not easy, to get your brakes to catch fire.  You won’t do it by standing on them and bringing the car to either a halt, or at least a low speed, as Consumer Reports was able to do.  You will smoke your brakes by pumping them, partly because they’ll get a chance to breathe, partly because you’re not slowing the car down.
      Mercedes PreSafe (and Lexus’ equivalent) will “adjust the behaviour” of the power braking system such that it applies maximum braking force when an accident is likely or, if the accident is inevitable, clamps down on request.  It does this because most people do not apply enough force to the pedal and/or pump or stab at the pedal with their foot, thus causing the “fiery brakes” above.
      When this story broke, I did some casual testing (because I’m in and out of rental cars pretty often.  With one foot on the gas and one on the brake, I was able to stop the following:

      Chevy Impala
      Hyundai Sonata
      Chrysler Sebring
      Ford Flex
      Honda Civic

      Even the four-thousand-pound plus Flex could be stopped, although each of them fought pretty hard.  I really think the core problem is that people panic (yes, even cops) and do not  stand on the brake hard enough, let alone kick the car into neutral and/or shut off the engine.

      • 0 avatar

        “Even the four-thousand-pound plus Flex could be stopped, although each of them fought pretty hard.”
        You should have been with me in that 5.0 Mustang that evening. I had both feet on the brake pedal. It wasn’t going down without a fight.
        “I really think the core problem is that people panic (yes, even cops) and do not  stand on the brake hard enough, let alone kick the car into neutral and/or shut off the engine.”
        I’ll be the first to admit, I panicked when the car didn’t decelerate after letting up on the accelerator pedal. I could see where you might think you’d be aware enough to think to put the car in neutral or kill the engine, but it’s different situation when the armco barrier is growing rapidly in your windshield. 
        I still maintain that a regular car’s brakes should be enough to stop the car. What scares me, is if there is an electronic problem with the drive by wire that Toyota uses, and if it’s a common part used by other manufacturers, are we all screwed?

  • avatar

    My Toy Yoda just sits there.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The LA Times did an interesting piece on this a few days ago which includes details missing from many media reports.,0,2472257,full.story
    The NHTSA seems to have gone out of its way to dismiss complaints.
    “Federal officials eliminated broad categories of sudden-acceleration complaints, including cases in which drivers said they were unable to stop runaway cars using their brakes; incidents of unintended acceleration lasting more than a few seconds; and reports in which owners did not identify the possible causes of the problem.

    NHTSA officials used the exclusions as part of their rationale to close at least five of the investigations without finding any defect, because — with fewer incidents to consider — the agency concluded there were not enough reported problems to warrant further inquiry. In a 2003 Lexus probe, for example, the agency threw out all but one of 37 customer complaints cited in a defect petition. It then halted further investigation, saying it “found no data indicating the existence of a defect trend.””
    Ah, first we ignored the vast majority of complaints, then said there were so few left as to not constitute a trend.
    To the question of how many people died in Toyota’s with reported unintended acceleration vs. other vehicles:
    “In a written statement, the NHTSA said its records show that a total of 15 people died in crashes related to possible sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles from the 2002 model year and newer, compared with 11 such deaths in vehicles made by all other automakers.”
    But wait, there’s more:
    “Other experts say the numbers may be far higher, pointing to a 2007 NHTSA survey of 600 Lexus owners that found 10% complained they had experienced sudden acceleration.”
    It sure appears that both the NHTSA and Toyota have been dismissing complaints because they thought that what people were reporting wasn’t possible, so they just threw out the input!
    “In reviewing consumer complaints during its investigations, the NHTSA relied on established “positions” that defined how the agency viewed the causes of sudden acceleration. Cases in which consumers alleged that the brakes did not stop a car were discarded, for example, because the agency’s official position was that a braking system would always overcome an engine and stop a car. The decision was laid out in a March 2004 memorandum.

    When asked to submit its own complaint data to the NHTSA, Toyota eliminated reports claiming that sudden acceleration occurred for “a long duration,” or more than a few seconds. Elsewhere, the company said a fail-safe in its throttle system makes such an event impossible.”
    Read the whole LA Times piece, then tell me you don’t think something fishy has been going on. It sure looks to me like both the NHTSA and Toyota have been willfully putting their heads in the sand.

  • avatar
    Geo. Levecque

    I currently drive a Toyota product and I have never had a issue with the Floor Mat on the Drivers side either, in the Winter time I change to the Rubber Mat and always make sure that I remove the orginial floor mat, before installing the Rubber (Winter) one , in all honesty I don’t see the problem that seems to exist only in the USA!

  • avatar

    Like GM of the 60s Toyota can probably get away with this defect with their reputation intact. The whole floor mat story is absurd. Actually, it is kind of insulting that they think we will fall for this.

  • avatar

    It’s another McDonalds hot coffee suit.

  • avatar

    akear – what evidence do you have that the floormat isn’t the issue?  I’m an automotive engineer and I’ve seen some really stupid, simple things cause parts to fail.  Also, replacing/modifying the gas pedal on these cars is going to cost a FORTUNE.  Why would they spend millions of dollars fixing what isn’t causing the problem if it was something an ECU reflash would fix?  Finally, the people that program these ECUs are not idiots.  You don’t think, after the unintended acceleration debacle that Audi faced, the programmers don’t have several levels of redundant failsafes?  It seems pretty simple to me.  Toyota didn’t allow enough room between the pedal and the footwell.  They are going to pay out loads of money in civil suits just by this admittance.

  • avatar

    Toyota – Now that you are the big man, you need to do something about it even if it is a bogus claim.  Throw some money and concern at it, else you’ll end up with a tarnished reputation.  and everyone knows how quickly that can happen.

  • avatar

    Toyota will continue framing this as a “defective floormat” story.  If its established that its really an electronics problem, the impact on their reputation and sales will be a lot more severe.
    Drivers will accept the risk of a floormat getting stuck (which can be physically overcome),  but they will not get in a potentially uncontrollable vehicle. Electronics-gone-awry is a far more frightening scenario, partially due to the subconscious fear of technology that most humans have.

  • avatar
    Jeff Puthuff

    It’s not the floormats! See this post we did last April:
    Watch the video; the floormat’s nowhere near the accelerator pedal.

  • avatar

    I spend half my year driving on snowy roads (northern MN).  I am in the habit of slipping the transmission into neutral when I approach a stop or start to slide so the wheels stop being powered (and never use cruise control when it is slippery).  However, applying a slight amount of throttle when sliding in a turn with front wheel drive helps pull you back on track.  If the throttle suddenly raced, I would be in the ditch (or worse).  Having the computer drop to zero whenever you touch the brake would be a disaster waiting to happen.

    By the way, for those wondering, D-FMEA is Design Failure Mode and Effects Analysis.  It is a tool to predict 1) if something is to fail, how will it fail? and 2) how catastrophic will the failure be?

  • avatar

    From what I’ve read, I think it’s something to do with the programming in these cars. But I still don’t know the answer to the question of whether any of these “unintended accelerations” were done in cars with manual transmissions.
    In my Jetta TDI, the ECU won’t allow me to press the brake and the go pedal at the same time. The brake pedal overrides the go pedal. The ECU says “are you slow?” and cuts fuel to the engine if both pedals are pressed at the same time. Apparently it’s been a safety feature on VWs for around 10 years now. Perhaps Toyota can reflash some ECUs and solve the problem for good. Much easier than replacing a bunch of pedals and/or mats.

  • avatar

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, when Toyota owners bring in their vehicles to have the gas pedals replaced, the dealer also reflashes the ECU as well.  Maybe they’ll claim that it needs to be “recalibrated for the new gas pedal assembly” or some story like that.
    One of my coworkers has a Jetta TDI and he brought it in to the dealer multiple times complaining of a loss of power, most often when pulling away from a stop.  Turns out that he uses his left foot to brake, and it sometimes rested on the brake pedal just enough to activate the brake lights.  This caused the computer to ignore gas pedal input.  I think this is a good safety feature in theory, but if Toyota implements it they should expect similar incidents where they need to retrain some bad drivers.

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