Did Toyota Plan Sneak Attack On Capitol Hill?

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
did toyota plan sneak attack on capitol hill

Congressional lawmakers are mad at Toyota. What has Toyota done now? Their sin this time: They may have harbored a secret “attack plan against congressional testimony.” This, says the Washington Post, has “drawn the ire of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.”

End of February, the witch-hunt against Toyota definitely had gotten out of hand. ABC News found a Southern Illinois Professor named David Gilbert who demonstrated to a shocked Brian Ross that Toyotas take off on their own if the ghost in the machine is roused. This was conveniently aired a few days before congressional testimony. In which Gilbert testified. A few days later, a man called Jim Sikes could‘t stop his Prius on a San Diego freeway. A housekeeper in a tony suburb of New York City had a runwaway Prius. Toyota had a problem.

The anti-Toyota-league was salivating. The pro-Toyota-league told Toyota to “get in front of the story.” I was asked what I would have recommended, and I truthfully answered: “Wakarimasen” – I have no idea.

Toyota demanded ideas, that’s why they called on the President’s pollster Joel Benenson (he had worked for Toyota for three years before.) They also gave an assignment to the New York PR firm Robinson, Lerer & Montgomery. That company calls itself an expert in “crisis management” and “public policy and regulatory issues.” Their mission: Find out how best to counter the onslaught of bad news.

However, soon their services were superfluous. The problem solved itself. We called shenanigans, saying that “For the Intended Gilbert Acceleration to occur in the wild, several things would have to happen in the exact sequence: First, the isolation for both VPA and VPA2 would have to break down. Then, a connection between VPA and VPA2 would have to be established. Into this connection, a resistance of no less than 50 ohms and no higher than 250 ohms would have to be connected. Once, and only once this connection between VPA and VPA2 has been established through the proper resistor, VPA2 (and not VPA) would have to be connected to +5V. Then, the car would take off.” That went right over everybody’s head.

A day later, Toyota’s technical advisor in these matters, Exponent, came to the same conclusions. That also overwhelmed most of the audience. Should have known better: Nearly half of the Americans believe that ghosts exist. Very few give credence to the existence of VPA and VPA2.

What did ABC in was that they were sloppy in their editing, and that they were called “fakers” by the likes of Gawker. People can indentify with that.

Toyota’s ultimate saviour was the man from San Diego, Jim Sikes . Turned out he had operated a business called Adultswinglife, after he had declared bankruptcy. That was just the tip of the iceberg. Sikes was promptly dubbed “Balloon Boy II”, and when NHTSA and Toyota engineers didn’t find signs the brakes had been applied at full force at high speeds over a sustained period of time, he turned into a lead balloon. A wife-swapping bankrupt real estate agent receives is comeuppance? People eat that up.

The runaway Prius of the New York housekeeper? Pilot error. Camry crashes into wall of YMCA? Driver error. Runaway Prius nearly kills boy? Driver error.

In February/March, any accident involving a Toyota did to the press what blood in the water does for sharks. Now, suddenly, no more unintended acceleration stories. Hot potato. Don’t touch.

The best pollster and the trickiest PR company can’t make that up.

At Toyota, the polling data and possible talking points were quickly filed away. Problem solved. Not for plaintiff lawyers and for Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), the House committee chairman. Both desperately want to keep the story alive. Their latest attempt: They called the polling witness tampering. Lawmakers “would take very seriously any effort to malign or intimidate witnesses who cooperate with our investigations,” a committee spokesman said in a statement, quoted by the Washington Post. Their headline? “Toyota had attack plan against congressional testimony, documents show.” Shades of December 7 …

Toyota’s answer? The cited a letter from Obama’s pollster, submitted to the committee, in which Benenson says that “testing messages to rebut unfair or false assertions is a common and legitimate research practice and is no different than message testing our firm regularly does for Congressional candidates or Congressional campaign committees in response to critics or opponents.”

Good for them. And other than candidates or campaign committees, they didn’t even need to use the research. The matter righted itself.

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3 of 11 comments
  • Windswords Windswords on May 17, 2010

    I didn't have the time (or patience) to sit thru the congressional hearings on Toyota. Wasn't the point of Gilbert's experiment on the Toyota to not show that SUA could happen in the real world under those same circumstances in his test, but to show that when an event does happen it does not set a fault code in the ECU? Gilbert is not responsible for how ABC presents their story. He has no editorial control (as anyone who has ever been interviewed by 60 minutes has found out). Remember, one of Toyota's defenses is that after an accident they find nothing wrong with the car or ECU and no fault codes. Did or did not Gilbert say that his experiment wasn't to show how it might happen but that if something did happen it would leave no "fingerprints" for investigators???

    • Bertel Schmitt Bertel Schmitt on May 17, 2010

      His point was that a "short" in the circuitry could cause SUA. Which was thoroughly debunked.

  • Wsn Wsn on May 17, 2010

    If Jim Sikes was hired by a PR company, that would be brilliant.

  • Master Baiter "...but the driver must be ready to step in and take control. The system is authorized for use during the day but at speeds lower than 40 mph..."Translation: It's basically useless, and likely more stressful than piloting the car ones's self.
  • Alan My friend has a Toyota Kluger (made in 'murica). A Highlander. These things are based on a Camry platform. I have driven the Kluger we had at work and I find them quite boring even for a SUV. An appliance. I hope this will deliver some driving pleasure. I found the Camry a better boring vehicle.
  • Alan Most Lexii look good to reasonable.....................until you see the front ends with their awkward grilles. It actually would look normal on a GWM, LDV or any other Chinese vehicle.
  • Tassos These last months, every day seems to be another great, consequential piece of news for Tesla, who does not just DOMINATE, it OWNS the US and FREE WORLD BEV market.It is the ONLY (repeat ONLY) maker that builds its huge best sellers at a PROFIT, ie, SUSTAINABLY. FOrd EV is bleeding 3 billion in losses. GM hides theirs, and I bet they are even HIGHER. VW has spent a huge no of billions and its ID series has been an UTTER FAILURE.Toyota, already 12 years too late, is yet to try. I doubt they will succeed to dethrone TESLA.
  • Tassos Again: I never took VOlvo seriously in the last 20 or so years.Chinese Volvo-Geely has a dizzying number of models, I have lost count how many,YET its sales and market share in the US has always been DISMAL these last 20 years.It ranges from a pathetic 0.5% to 0.8% of the US market.For comparison, Toyota has 15% and GM has even more. Tesla has almost 10 TIMES VOlvo's share, with a PITTANCE of really TWO Models, the 3 and the Y, as the S and the X hardly sell any copies any more.So why do we keep reading articles about Stupid VOlvo?Because they have the best PR department of any maker.