And Now for Something Completely Different: Musical Tribute to Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration

What do you do when you make your living by guitar and you experience an SUA in your Toyota? You write a song about it, of course. Kris Kitko, a professional musician from Bismarck, North Dakota was in her 2002 low-mileage Camry, heading down Route 83 when her vehicle suddenly accelerated. She had set the cruise control to the 70 mph speed limit, and was traveling for several miles, without touching the accelerator pedal and without incident. Suddenly, she says, “it felt like I was in a rocket -- it felt like the pedal hit the floor. I had a passenger in the car and she let out a scream. It made it close to 80 mph pretty quickly. Thankfully, pressing the brake was all it took. As soon as I touched the brakes it stopped.”

Kitko wasn’t sure what to do next, so she pulled over and called her answering machine and left a message explaining what had happened, in case the Camry misbehaved again with more dire consequences.

Makin’ It Fit, So We Can Acquit

We continue to see a mismatch between the facts of Toyota SUA and NHTSA’s representations.  And our level of concern continues to grow as the agency  makes public statements, issues reports and otherwise draws conclusions without presenting any supporting evidence.

Today, NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation Division Chief Jeffrey Quandt stood before the National Academies of Sciences panel looking into electronic throttle controls and told the room that Kevin Haggerty’s SUA event was caused by a sticky accelerator pedal. His incident is one of the flies in Toyota’s ointment, because the service technicians witnessed the vehicle racing in neutral. (Actually, Toyota service technicians have observed and – at times – replicated other SUA complaints – Haggerty’s incident has just been the most public.) To recap:

Toyota’s Brain Hurts

Keep repeating: Toyota’s fault detection system is perfect. Toyota’s fault detection system is perfect. Toyota’s fault detection system is perrrrrfect…..

Did that help?

Number One Automaker Toyota has hypnotized NHTSA in several sudden unintended acceleration investigations by chanting that phrase. Its fault detection system could not be breached, Toyota said, and therefore drivers who reported SUA were nuts or incompetent.

Toyota Dealers to Customers: It’s Not Me, It’s You

Toyota has never had any good choices in extricating itself from the Sudden Unintended Acceleration problem it has been in for a year and counting. (Except admit the problem, work diligently to resolve it, take your lumps and move on.) But as many a public relations expert has opined already, they have won themselves a place in the pantheon of business school case studies in the “What-not-to-Do” category.

The streak continues. We’ve noticed a dribbling of press releases from Toyota dealerships touting the NHTSA interpretation of the Toyota black box data as proof that there is nothing wrong with their products. These headlines and sub-heads left us gob-smacked:

No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota, Part II

After the Wall Street Journal plastered the front page a few weeks ago claiming NHTSA had “black box” (aka Event Data Recorder or EDR) data to support that driver error, not electronics, was the cause of the unintended acceleration issues in Toyotas, the headline is back yet again following a NHTSA Congressional briefing yesterday.

The WSJ in a subsequent story identified George Person, recently retired head of the recall division at NHTSA, as the source.  (see No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota and Lawsuits Fill in Outline of Toyota Sudden Acceleration Cover-Up)

Money for Nothing and Complaints for Free

Interesting fact: A raft of academic and industry studies show that customers who complain and have their complaint successfully resolved bring in more money to the company than it costs to fix the problem.

In the topsy-turvy Toyota World, however, it’s the customers who are already happy that get the red carpet treatment and big bucks. Have you heard about Nick and Sharyn Davis, from Parker County, Texas? You will soon. According to The Weatherford Democrat, the Davises are among the lucky winners in a Toyota advertising campaign, touting “real people with real stories about their Toyotas. And, the Davises are part of those real people.”

Lawsuits Fill in Outline of Toyota Sudden Accleration Cover-Up

The splash that retired NHTSA recall division chief George Person made when he told The Wall Street Journal that the agency was sitting on a report that would show driver error to be the cause of Toyota SUA events has been submerged by a new wave of reality, as attorneys heading the Multi-District Litigation (MDL) charged in a class-action complaint that Toyota knew since 2003 that it had an SUA problem it could not explain and its own dealers witnessed some events.

The MDL, filed this week on behalf of Toyota and Lexus owners alleging that the automaker’s SUA defect has caused their vehicles to lose value, shows that Toyota has known, at least since May 2003 that its Electronic Throttle Control had a “dangerous” unintended acceleration problem with an unknown cause. That civil action, and a second one claiming damages for Toyota and Lexus owners who were injured or killed in crashes alleged to have been caused by SUA, cite six incidents which occurred between 2003 and 2010, witnessed by Toyota technicians, dealers and others. The e-mails also show that Toyota spent considerable energy trying to divert NHTSA from looking too closely at the issue. Here are some highlights from the class-action complaint:

Will Toyota Be Number One in Criminal Violations Under the TREAD Act?

Toyota’s announcement that it is the subject of a federal criminal probe in the relay rod recalls begs a question: Will it be the first automaker to be criminally prosecuted under the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (TREAD) Act?

Today, the automaker released – via a statement to the Tokyo Stock Exchange – the news that a federal grand jury in New York had subpoenaed the company on June 29 for documents regarding relay rod failures.

Toyota said:  “The company and our subsidiaries will cooperate with the investigation with sincerity.”

Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration: The New Numbers Are In!

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

  • Consumer complaints to NHTSA through June 7, 2010
  • Toyota-submitted claims from several NHTSA investigations into unintended acceleration
  • Incidents reported by media organizations
  • Consumer contacts made to our organization and other firms that are reporting incidents that they have received

No Black Box Exoneration for Toyota

The Wall Street Journal made a splash yesterday when it reported that the US DOT had analyzed dozens of data recorders from Toyota vehicles in crashes blamed on unintended acceleration and found that the throttles were open and brakes were not applied.  These findings support Toyota’s position that SUA events are not caused by vehicle electronics, the Journal claimed.  The Journal apparently based its report on information leaked by Toyota, because NHTSA is denying any involvement.

Toyota’s efforts to place the story with the Journal seem to be paying dividends –  literally. The automaker’s stock rose 1 percent on the news and reporters scrambled to repeat the Journal piece with no independent sources.

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