By on February 3, 2010

“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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46 Comments on “Quote Of The Day: “We’re not finished with Toyota.”...”

  • avatar

    Heads up on spelling for “900 Pound”

  • avatar

    Doesn’t smell like a witch hunt to me.

    Toyota has flung megatons of bullshit on allegations of SUA for three years. In the last three weeks they haven’t been able to keep their story straight from one day to the next. Even before this became a front-page story they had more unintended acceleration complaints than all other automakers combined. For months they had no idea what was causing the problem, but days after being forced to stop sales they figure out simply wedging a shim into the pedal assembly fixes everything?

    Yeah, I’m skeptical.

    The actual Congressional hearings are going to be a pointless dog and pony show. They always are. The real work happens at the staff level when the committees start handing out subpoenas for documents and testimony. Ever hear the (really, really bad) joke about how they define relative humidity in Kentucky? That punchline has nothing on the sweat Toyota is going to throw off when they see the subpoena for every internal document related to unintended acceleration.

  • avatar

    Ever hear the (really, really bad) joke about how they define relative humidity in Kentucky?

    Never heard of it. Please tell me.

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    I’m no conspiracy buff and have minimum sympathy for Toyota. Unlike other automakers it did not program a commonsense failsafe into the engine electronics to idle the engine if the gas and brake pedals are simultaneously activated. However, this looks like the U.S. government is kicking it when it’s down.

    The politicos were nowhere in sight as Ford fought a bad cruise control switch recall for years. The underhood switch would burst into flames. Several cars and the houses in which they were garaged burned. There were fatalities.

    On the lighter side, this may flush No. 1 grandson Akio Toyoda out. Wonder if he’ll fly economy and schlep to the hearing in a used Prius.

  • avatar

    That quote is almost, almost Chavez like.

    • 0 avatar

      A key difference is that Chavez would have:
      * taken actual control of GM or Chrysler, rather than the limp-wristed, arm’s length money-pit option.
      * actually done something to Toyota, rather than just used the incident as a chance to grand-stand

      I suspect part of this is LaHood not wanting to look like a idiot when the IIHS called his war on distracted driving an answer looking for a question. This gives him a convenient side-show to take focus off that gaffe.

    • 0 avatar

      * actually done something to Toyota, rather than just used the incident as a chance to grand-stand

      How is that going, anyway? With Chavez making Toyota build “rustic” vehicles, that is.

    • 0 avatar

      “taken actual control of GM or Chrysler, rather than the limp-wristed, arm’s length money-pit option.”

      He would have expropiated or nationalized them. At HIS price.

      In Toyota’s case, he would have intervened the company for the lenght of the fiasco.

  • avatar

    LaHood’s phrasing is consistent with the verbal gaffes this administration is becoming noted for. Just yesterday, the President’s Chief of Staff apologized for calling the actions of some liberal members of his own party f***ing retarded.
    As the Instapundit blog had it – RAHM EMANUEL COMPARES DEMOCRATS TO RETARDED PEOPLE, then apologizes to retarded people.

    It may be Toyota’s time in the tank. The B&B’s speculation here that a fix with a shim sure sounds fishy may bear out. It’s likely Toyota wouldn’t be alone in having the problem – if it exists – but they would be the appointed whipping boy – pour encourager les autres.

  • avatar

    “That quote is almost, almost Chavez like.”

    Thanks for that, Stingray.
    It’s an arm of the government looking out for government motors by attacking the competition. Meanwhile, we have a union dominated administration going after a favorite target of the union movement. If you find that hard to believe, check out how many times labor leader Stern has visited the White House. I think he sleeps between barack and michelle on most visits.
    Toyota has problems: the sooner they are corrected, the better for the market place overall. But why would obozo care about that?

    • 0 avatar

      We down here are accustomed to the government messing in this kind of affair.

      When the Explorer case shit hit the fan, there was a local investigation about it. There were serious accidents here, with death people (people usually drove them up to the about 100 MPH governed speed). The amount of Explorers was much much lower than in the US, but I would adventure myself estimating the body count in 20. Then it came the recall and more or less people “forgot” about it. I have been given at least 3 theories about what happened.

      And they did last year with Coca Cola Zero. Banned from the market.

      I don’t think this is related to the Obama administration having its hands on GM or the UAW. However, given the state of things in these times, it wouldn’t surprise me either.

  • avatar

    I am with the author and many coomenters here in believing that there’s more to this than just “looking out for the consumers”. There’s just an air about this that reeks of protecting the interests of Government Motors, and it stinks. One has to wonder, if Obama didn’t have a stake in this, how big a deal would it be? Sure, NHTSA is there to make sure the problem is fixed and the cars are safe, but I don’t ever remember a recall that just raked the automaker over the coals like this one seems to be doing. Maybe because this one affects massive numbers of cars, but I think there’s more to it than that. The 19 or so deaths out of millions of cars is, statistically, a very small number for this to be getting so ugly.

  • avatar

    I don’t think there are any conspiracies afoot. Still, LaHood comes off to me as something of a blowhard, as illustrated in this opinion excerpt from MacLean’s, Canada’s national weekly current affairs magazine:


    How dare they tell us the truth?

    by Colby Cosh

    Maybe it’s true: you can put a Republican in a Democratic cabinet, but you can’t stop him from trashing science. On Friday the Highway Loss Data Institute issued a paper [stating] that their insurance-claims information offered no significant indication that cellular bans in California, New York, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia had done a lick of good. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood took to the web in a state of high dudgeon, complaining that the study “irresponsibly suggests that laws banning cell phone use while driving have zero effect on the number of crashes on our nation’s roadways.”

    Leaving aside whether it can be “irresponsible” for a study to report disappointing or unexpected data–although, why, yes, now that you mention it, that’s something the definition of scientific responsibility positively requires!…

    …One way or another, there can be no excuse for LaHood to resort to the argument from anecdote in an attack on the world’s most important highway-safety authority.

    The Highway Loss Data Institute is an affiliate of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. When I first learned of LaHood’s reaction through a press release by NHTSA, I was dumbfounded. Every other news report of the study was either positive or at least neutral regarding the outcome. The IIHS itself said the data were perplexing and further research would continue.

    But LaHood has been leading a high-profile crusade against distracted driving, especially in regard to cell phone use. Therefore, some inconvenient facts apparently got in the way of his beliefs; hence the tirade.

    LaHood’s been in office for over a year now and NHTSA is under his control. Why didn’t he push for a more thorough investigation earlier, especially after the Saylor crash that killed 4 people?

    There was also his earlier endorsement of a pay-per-mile scheme to supplement the existing federal gas tax. That was promptly shot down by the Obama administration. The guy is a loose cannon.

    • 0 avatar

      irresponsibly suggests that laws banning cell phone use while driving have zero effect on the number of crashes on our nation’s roadways

      I love it. “Irresponsibly” suggesting the truth get in the way of dogma.

      I don’t think this is some kind of conspiracy, or at least not one intended to advance GM’s cause. It’s rather just one man proxying a cause célèbre for his own personal aggrandizement.

  • avatar
    Detroit Todd

    1. There is nothing nefarious about a duly-elected government enforcing its just laws and performing regulatory oversight. Also, the government is not manufacturing a problem where none exists. It would be negligent and suspect for the government NOT to investigate this issue.

    2. Yes, Bart Stupak hails from Michigan. Guess what else does? A giant, state-of-the-art Toyota North American R&D facility just outside Ann Arbor, Michigan.

    What we’re seeing here is normal. But if one has an anti-government-of-any-kind hammer, I suppose anything the government does is perceived as a nail.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    The NHTSA under previous leadership swept the Toyota UA issue under the rug with a vengeance, going so far as to discount nearly all user reports of the problem because they didn’t believe it could happen. Now with a new boss and a lot of media attention they are cracking open those case files and looking at them anew. Good.

    I see LaHood’s statement as very much an indication that there is a new Sheriff in town who, unlike the previous Sheriff (Mary Peters), takes the safety part of the Transportation Secretary’s job very seriously. By the way, former Secretary Peters was best known for her ardent support of turning federal highways into private toll roads.

    • 0 avatar

      The largest NHTSA fine happened in 2004 against GM. You can hardly say the previous administration was fine reluctant. The first pedal complaint appeared in 2007, and Toyota dismissed as user error. That is not too long ago and one complaint is hardly an epidemic. The problem here is the unrealistic fawning over Toyota and its perceived impeccable quality. No one dare question Toyota’s quality. This was a problem with the press, especially automotive and Consumer Reports, consumers, and government. One good expose story would have awaken the consumers, consumers would not have purchased defective vehicles, and free market forces would have succeeded. One positive side effect of this is the bloom is off Toyota’s rose. People will no longer assume Toyota is perfectly engineered. They are fallible.

  • avatar

    It would be nice to see how the statement was in the email. When taken as a one liner, it doesn’t sound great. But it does mean he is taking this job seriously.

    In other news, I know several people were saying that ECU’s were getting updates and others saying that they were with regards to brake over ride.

    “Lentz said he is confident that resolving this issue and the floor mat entrapment problem will solve the problem for Toyota. The automaker has also said it is making “brake override” — a system that cuts engine power to the wheels as soon as the brake pedal is pressed — standard equipment on all of its cars.

    The “brake override” software will also be added to the internal computers on some cars as they are brought in for recall repairs, a Toyota spokesman said.”

    Looks like Toyota will be changing some ECUs.

  • avatar

    “What’s a Conflict of Interest?

    A conflict of interest or the appearance of loss of impartiality occurs when a Federal employee, who has an interest in a particular matter, takes some official action that has a direct and predictable affect on that interest. Official actions by the employee that affect the interests of persons with a relationship to the employee, such as spouses, children, business associates, and employers, may also trigger a conflict of interest.

    For example, an employee may have a conflict of interest or the appearance of a loss of impartiality if she participates in an advisory committee meeting that reviews whether a certain weapons program should be continued and:

    • the employee owns stock in the prime or subcontractor that supplies the weapon;
    • the spouse of the employee owns stock in, or works for, the contractor(s);
    • the employee is a consultant, employee, or former employee of the contractor(s); or
    • the employee is a member of the board of directors of the contractor(s).

    Official participation in particular matters that are part of the conflict is generally barred by either a criminal statute or regulation. The above examples illustrate a very important point: employees may participate in official matters in which they have a conflict of interest without realizing they have such a conflict. They either may be unaware that the particular matter conflicts with their personal financial interests, or that the interests of persons with whom they have a relationship may also cause a conflict. A lack of intent to defraud the Government or improperly profit from their official duties does not absolve them from prosecution.”

    As many have stated, every us citizen is now a share holder of GM… Thus any federal employee meets the definition of an interested party. I’m not suggesting that a conflict of interest has OCCURRED. I’m suggesting that the Fed’s own rules on COI state that the mere APPEARANCE of a COI should be avoided. Just the fact that some of the B&B are suggesting that a this is close to a COI satisfies the “appearance” aspect. This is not to suggest that the actions taken by the Trans. Sec. is taking the wrong actions. What I am suggesting is that it’s risky for the govt. to take such actions in the eyes of the world while maintaining a controlling investment in GM. There is no exit strategy b/c they can’t off load their investment anytime soon so we’re screwed.

    What if the roles were reversed. If GM was having accelerator problems. Do you believe that Ray LaHood would not have been called by at least one administration official to influence what actions would be taken against GM for having the same problem?

    It’s the APPEARANCE of a COI that is just as dangerous as a COI.

    • 0 avatar

      Your right, so since the gov’t owns GM, it can’t force any other company to have a recall. Nice thinking there. I also think that GM would be handled in a very similar fashion, but it also depends on how GM reacts. There are reports that Toyota was “safety deaf” with regards to these recalls. It will be interesting to see as I believe GM will have to recall some power steering units that are problematic in Cobalts.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    Motor Trend claims a Toyota Camry accelerates from 45-65 mph in four seconds.

    One Mississippi.
    Two Mississippi.
    Three Mississippi.
    Four Mississippi.

    If a motorist can’t figure out to put his car in neutral in that amount of time, then he or she shouldn’t be driving. If our drivers ed programs can’t teach that, then the problem does not exist with Toyota.

    It exists with NHTSA, US DOT, the states who design the drivers education curricula, and the teachers to teach drivers education in our schools.

    If you can’t handle the responsibility of driving, then it’s time to give up the license.

    • 0 avatar
      Amendment X

      Frankly, I agree that the states should get some blame for not having better driver’s ed courses. If you don’t know what neutral is for or how to use it, you should not be operating a vehicle.

      Don’t be so soft on Toyota though.

    • 0 avatar

      How long does it take to get from 65-85? My guess is not very long at WOT, downshift, high RPM’s giving more horsepower.

      While, I don’t think that drivers should be able to avoid this by shifting the car into neutral, it doesn’t make this problem any less significant. The car has a defect(s). The defect(s) has killed people.

  • avatar

    These noble senators are doing this out of the kindness of their hearts. They are protecting us from these unsafe vehicles.
    Bless these nobleman with large hearts.

  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    +1 and well said, Celebrity.

    +1 and well said Ron Panhard.

  • avatar

    In time, it will be proven (and subsequently ignored) that EXACTLY like occurred with Audi’s unintended acceleration debacle in the 80’s, there is NO universal “DEFECT” in any of these Toyotas. Audi was mercilessly crucified by the media for years, and in 2 DECADES of post-event research, there was NEVER anything found wrong with the cars in question, other than the pedal spacing maybe being closer then American’s were used to. The media does not want you to know that, but it is true.

    So again, the media and now the US government will do the same thing to Toyota. Conduct a witch hunt, this time further motivated by the appeal of kicking a Government Motors competitor when it’s (probably undeservedly) down.

    The government is not happy because of Toyota’s “delay” in issuing a solution? Why? Would not the government want a thorough and accurate diagnosis of the problem, so that the REAL problem (if there is one) is actually found? And the reason for the delay and the seemingly changing explanations of the problem is probably because Toyota can’t find a problem. They are being forced to just do SOMETHING.

    Why do I believe that if there was a problem, it would be WAY more widespread than it appears to be and likely be reproducible which it appears NOT to be.

    And, +1 to Rod Panhard. If you cannot handle an unintended acceleration event by throwing the car into neutral or really stomping on the brakes, you should not be operating a 3500 lb mechanical device.

    In the current issue of Car & Driver (page 34) they did a test using three different cars (including a 540 HP Roush Mustang) to see if braking could overcome and stop a car with a stuck WOT at 70MPH. ALL of them stopped, the Camry in the test stopped from 70 in only 16 more feet then its normal 70 to 0 stopping distance. Give me a break.

    • 0 avatar

      So, no universal defect, but there are already 2 defects. I have no idea where you are coming from with that statement.

      This isn’t a witch hunt, the gov’t had been trying to get to the bottom of this, and Toyota has been a little safety deaf. They had to go to Japan to get the point across to Toyota.

      I have not heard anyone say they are not happy on a delay in finding a solution. I have only heard that people were upset about the delay in issuing the recall.

      Toyota has over 2k complaints for unintended acceleration.
      This is when people actually take the time to complain about the problem. I don’t have data on that, but I am sure that it is quite high.

      A 3500lb vehicle should do what it is told. I do agree that people need to know what to do when this happens, but blaming the driver is pretty much being a Toyota apologist, (which Toyota tried to do by saying it was only incorrect floor mats at first).

      In that issue, they probably didn’t have someone pump the brakes which at that time problem couldn’t have stopped the car.

      This isn’t some BS story and a great conspiracy that the MSM and gov’t are collaborating on. These cars have a serious safety issue.

  • avatar

    Oh, and someone should do a demographic study of the typical 1980’s Audi UA “victim” and today’s customer who is experiencing these UA events in the Toyotas and Lexus’s. Something tells me they would prove to be incredibly similar, if not the SAME EXACT people.

  • avatar

    I don’t believe Chairman Obama’s ownership of GM is at all relevant to LaHood’s comments. Obama is doing everything he can to destroy the western economy. Helping GM vs. a Japanese or Chinese company does not fit his agenda.

    Japan is second only to China as a lender to the US, and Japan’s economy is in no great shape either, so they will not want to see Toyota take a really hard financial hit. It will cost them too much.

    So what to do?

    Give Toyota a verbal slap on the wrist through LaHood, then do nothing in the Washington hearings. The comment about Toyota being “a little safety-deaf” should be good for punishment of about another 100,000 lost sales around the world, then Toyota can start rebuilding.

    Problem solved.

    Now let’s see how weird things become when China is ready to demand that their American comrade allow Chinese cars into the US. LaHood better not set any harsh precedents with Toyota that will hinder the plans of the Chinese owners of America’s debt.

  • avatar

    Most likely any new car customers fleeing from Toyota will shop Honda, Hyundai and Nissan.
    Just can’t see a significant number going to wobbly GM.
    Just like cash for clunkers, most of the benefit of any conceivable market condition (recalls, incentives, whatever) do not favor GM or sad sack Chrysler.

  • avatar

    The Transportation Secretary’s choice of words make it crystal clear that he and his associates have an axe to grind with Toyota. As has been have pointed out, other automakers do not get this scrutiny about their ongoing safety issues. While Toyota’s decision to revise the CTS pedal twice since 2007 to address sticking issues in production cars yet not recall cars on the road is pathetic, I don’t see more than one or two documented cases of CTS pedal equipped cars experiencing SUA, let alone cases where the floormat was not implicated. So, a question for the auto experts: What percentage of parts must fail before the design is considered defective as opposed to just chalking failure up to product abuse, statistical anomalies, etc?

    As far as the floormats go: I still don’t see this as a defect in anything other than the logic of idiots who put an unsecured heavy object on the floor by their gas and brake pedals, to include the dealership employees who want to keep the precious mats in their loaners looking new. What about cars that have crappy cupholders and allow water bottles to fall into the driver footwell and get stuck under the brake pedal when the car stops or turns suddenly? Should they be recalled? How about cars that don’t have warning labels on the rear package shelf against putting heavy grocery bags on them lest a can of spam smack the driver in the head during a sudden stop?

    Regarding shifting to neutral: I agree this commonsense response to SUA should be expected of drivers. However, the ES350’s gated shifter makes this hard in a panic situation if in the “sport” mode. In that case, it can’t be pushed forward to neutral; it must be moved rightward and then forward. And, the “N” marking’s position is such that one may erroneously think pushing the shifter forward while in sport mode will put the car in neutral. While taking the time to read one’s car user manual before piloting a complex 4,000 pound machine at 60 mph seems logical to me, I can understand not everyone does this (most likely b/c the manuals are so massive due to all the safety warnings in them).

    • 0 avatar

      Yes it could be confusing during a panic, especially in a loaner car. The labeling is poorly designed. Why even include a “sport mode” in car like the ES? Here is a picture:

    • 0 avatar

      These aren’t sorted by what caused the UA, but they are reports of the incident, at least when someone reported it. It very well is likely to have happened more than this.

      2000 complaints about it.

  • avatar

    They should be afraid. Very afraid! Toyota has been given a free lunch pass for far to long IMO both in the Import humping press and new editors and by the cult following American public. They will now have to face the music and take it like a man or get the hell out of our country.

  • avatar

    My first thought on reading DaHood’s comment was, “I wonder if there are still open issues at the NUMMI shutdown?”

    According to news reports (see link below), federal officials are closely involved in discussions to help out as many as 26,400 auto industry employees. Perhaps Toyota is about be become a whole lot more “reasonable” about its corporate responsibilities to displaced workers now that Guido and Vinnie have come calling.

  • avatar

    “I suspect part of this is LaHood not wanting to look like a idiot when the IIHS called his war on distracted driving an answer looking for a question.”

    LaHood began looking not like an idiot, but simply just another opportunistic, antagonistic politician more concerned with his popularity and the illusion of his ‘proactive actions’ than actually doing something of substance. He’s the transportation czar – where is the edict from on high to require license tests to include much more substantive education components? Not sexy work, but likely the best way to reduce accidents in the long run, and certainly impact those who have the highest incidences of accidents – young drivers.

    We’d accomplish much more through driver education than through witch hunts.

    LaHood is a politician… nothing more.

  • avatar

    Me thinks the witch hunt that is going on at the moment will backfire. Will Toyota go bust? Well, if I am looking for a good car for $20,000 and don’t want to buy an “unsafe” Toyota, am I going to run to a Chevy or Chrysler dealership?

    Hardly. And no wonder people in the USA don’t trust politicians when obese morons like this go on the rant.

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