Thoroughly Investigated? We Don’t Think So

This morning, Jim Lentz, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, joined the brigade of executives dispatched to put out the unintended acceleration wildfire currently consuming the company’s sales, stock rating and reputation. As the Today Show’s Matt Lauer tried to corner him, Lentz emphatically insisted that the only two issues affected Toyota vehicles are floor mat interference and sticking accelerator pedals. The company has studied this issue exhaustively and is confident that these fixes will solve the problems, Lentz told Lauer, trying not to shift uncomfortably in his chair.

First, the recent recalls do not, we repeat, do not cover all of the vehicles plagued by SUA. In fact, the most troubled vehicle in Toyota’s fleet – as measured by consumer complaints, the 2002 and 2006 Camry, is not a part of any recall.

Stop the Pedals!

Toyota announced on Thursday that it was recalling about 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals, after investigating isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms. Toyota claimed it was a wear issue – even though most of the models recalled included 2009 and 2010 model years. After the news broke, several stories noted that Toyota was continuing to sell the affected models without the remedy already applied.  While it is normal for manufacturers who recall vehicles to instruct their dealers to repair vehicles on their lots before selling them, Toyota’s announcement today covers a number of the best-selling vehicles and the company will halt production at its North American plants until it has a remedy plan. 

They Know Not what They Do

We, here at The Safety Record Blog, understand the hell of a story that breaks at 5 p.m. on a Friday, with every relevant source already on the way to his weekend and unavailable by cell. We do not understand all of the breathless second and third-day stories in which the reporter hasn’t taken the time to understand the context of the issue on which they are writing – to wit, Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

Headlines like: Toyota Knew of Sticky Throttle Problem Late Last Year, from USAToday’s DriveOn section, make us wince. Toyota has known that its vehicles suffer from unintended acceleration since May 2003, when the first consumers began demanding that NHTSA investigate this problem. That would be six-and-a-half years ago. Complaint rates, particularly on the popular Camry, coincide with the introduction of the automakers electronic throttle beginning with the 2002 model year.

Breaking! Roll Out the Recalls!

In a curious twist of timing, Toyota announced another massive recall related to Sudden Unintended Acceleration – this time 2.3 million late model Toyotas plagued with “sticking accelerator pedals.” The timing is suspiciously pre-emptive – the company’s feet were about to be singed an hour later by ABC World News Tonight, followed by a Toyota SUA story on ABC Nightline.

But that is hardly the only odd thing about the recall. In its announcement, the automaker said that it had received “isolated reports” of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms:

“The condition is rare, but can occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn and, in certain conditions, the accelerator pedal may become harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position.”

It’s Complicated: Concerned Citizen Drops a Dime on Toyota

As we all should have learned nine years ago from the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire maelstrom, it’s not often just one thing that creates a catastrophe of epic proportions.  Defect issues that rise to the top of the charts are frequently the result of a multitude of problems that align to create a widespread hazard.

Toyota Sudden Acceleration in Reverse

Earlier this week, The Safety Record reported another Toyota SUA incident involving a 2007 Avalon and a New Jersey driver who managed to get his over-accelerating vehicle to the dealership with smoking brakes and an engine at full throttle. For those of you who missed it:

This owner had experienced several unintended acceleration incidents – incidents in which the vehicle accelerated without driver input.  The most recent occurred on Dec. 29 as he drove on the highway. The man was unable to stop the vehicle with the brakes alone, but he was able to shift the vehicle into Neutral. As the engine continued to race to full-throttle, he immediately called the local Toyota dealer, about two miles away, to alert them he was bringing the vehicle to their lot.  He drove the car to the dealer by shifting from Neutral to Drive, foot on the brake, with the engine at full throttle.

Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration Complaints Update

Safety Research & Strategies has completed our latest review of Toyota unintended acceleration complaint data.  Our database consists of incidents from the following sources:

Toyota Pedal Fix Dress Rehearsal

In early December 2005, Toyota learned of two early model Lexus IS250 with accelerator pedals “out of tolerance” – meaning the pedal could become stuck. One instance occurred during a dealer pre-delivery inspection and a second was reported by Toyota Canada during transportation at the port facility. The automaker had received no complaints in the U.S. or Canada.

Nonetheless, Toyota was on it like a shot:

Toyota announces a Fix for Sudden Acceleration: Focus on Stuck Mats

After years of applying band aids to its Sudden Unintended Acceleration problem, Toyota will finally offer a vehicle-based remedy to fix SUA problems involving floor mats that can entrap the accelerator pedals in eight Toyota and Lexus models.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced this morning that

Toyota plans to reconfigure the accelerator pedal on 3.8 million vehicles going back to the 2004 model year.  Other fixes include modifying the floor area around the pedal and in some models, installing a brake-to-idle override that allows the driver to quickly stop a vehicle in an unintended acceleration incident and newly-designed replacement driver- and front-passenger side all-weather mats.

NHTSA Pronounces and Toyota Pounces: It’s the Floor Mats, Stupid

Showing admirable restraint, Toyota waited a whole five days before trumpeting the closing of Defect Petition 09-001 as proof positive “that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.”

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