Toyota: The Battle Of The Papers

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
toyota the battle of the papers

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.

Join the conversation
2 of 35 comments
  • Steven02 Steven02 on Feb 14, 2010

    If one report says it isn't the pedals, and suggests the ECU, why doesn't Toyota also proof that it IS the pedals and not the ECU. It seems like they went over the ECU with test and didn't find any faults. But, with the testing they were doing, you wouldn't really expect them too either. I mean, if they knew already how to break it, they would have hopefully issued a recall to fix it. Not saying it is the ECU, not saying it isn't. But why didn't Toyota try to proof it was the pedals?

  • Crash sled Crash sled on Feb 15, 2010

    I wouldn't spend too much time worrying about Biller. He sounds pretty kooky to me, however talented a lawyer he might be. Biller, who said he worked at Toyota from 2003 to 2007, received a $3.7 million settlement in September 2007 for wrongful discharge, according to court filings. Biller said in his civil racketeering complaint filed July 24 in federal court in Los Angeles that he became mentally ill on the job and continues to suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress.

  • Probert Sorry to disappoint: any list. of articles with a 1 second google search. It's a tough world out there - but you can do it!!!!!!
  • ToolGuy "We're marking the anniversary of the time Robert Farago started the GM death watch and called for the company to die."• No, we aren't. Robert Farago wrote that in April 2005. It was reposted in 2009 on the eve of the actual bankruptcy filing.The byline dates are sometimes strange/off with the site revisions (and the 'this is a repost' note got lost), but the date string in the link is correct (...2005/04...). Posting about GM bankruptcy in 2005 was a slightly more difficult call than doing it in 2009.-- The Truth About Calendars
  • Kat Laneaux Agree with Michael500, we wasted all that money just to bail out GM and they are developing these cars in China and other countries. What the heck. I understand the cheap labor but that is just another foothold the government has on their citizens and they already treat them like crap. That is pretty disgusting to go forward to put other peoples health and mental stability on a crazy crazed, control freak, leader, who is in bed with Russia. Thought about getting a buick but that just shot that one out of the park. All of this for the greed. They get what they lay in bed with. Disgusting.
  • Michael500 Good thing Obama used $50 billion of taxpayer money to bail them out and give unions a big stake. GM is headed to BK again with their Hail Mary hope of EVs. Hopefully a Republican in office will let them go BK the next time, and it's coming. The US economy is not related/dependent on GM and their Chinese made Buicks.
  • MaintenanceCosts "Rural areas hardly noticed COVID at all."I very much doubt that is true in places like the Navajo Nation or the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska, some of which lost 2% or more of their population to COVID.No city had a death rate in the same order of magnitude.Low-density living is a very modern invention. Before cars, people, even in agricultural areas, needed to live densely to survive.