Looking to the Past: Why Toyota isn't Audi

You wouldn’t troubleshoot the space shuttle by tinkering under the hood of the Spirit of St. Louis. But a surprising number of observers think that the answer to Toyota’s Sudden Unintended Acceleration problems can be found in the mechanical systems of a quarter century ago. Linking Toyota’s present troubles to those of Audi in the mid-1980s is a convenient shibboleth; it may even provide a lesson in corporate crisis management. But to figure out why so many Toyota makes and models across multiple model years are experiencing unintended acceleration in a variety of scenarios, we must resolve to understand modern automotive electronic systems.

The Cracks in Toyota’s Recalls are Showing Again

The witness chairs in the House hearing chambers hadn’t even cooled, when Toyota owners who dutifully took their vehicles into the dealership for a pedal fix were reporting more sudden acceleration incidents to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

On February 24, the president of Toyota Motor Corporation, Akio Toyoda, raised his right hand before an investigative congressional oversight committee and swore: “I'm absolutely confident that there is no problem with the design of the ETC system.”

Dimitrios Biller and the Book of Knowledge

Last week, Ed Towns, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform went to town on Toyota, asking five very pointed questions about the automaker’s “Books of Knowledge,” compendiums purportedly containing, among other things, damning information about the automakers acknowledgement of design issues and countermeasures, by component and vehicle. References to these so-called Books of Knowledge appeared in documents produced under a committee subpoena from former Toyota counsel, Dimitrios Biller. In a letter to Yoshimi Inaba, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, Towns asked him to respond to e-mails such as this June 2005 correspondence to Toyota executive Webster Burns, regarding the Greenburg SUA lawsuit:

"When this lawsuit was threatened, no one was surprised. This issue [sudden unintended acceleration] had been the subject of a number of meetings and the exchange of a number of documents between TMS and TMC, (did anyone ever gather and organize all those documents and memorialize the "meetings"? If so, were [sic] are the documents and information about the meetings?) [emphasis indicates Biller's comments] and the possibility of a class action lawsuit was used as one way to try to get TMC to work on a series of proposed countermeasures.”

Juanita Grossman’s Story: How Do You Slam Into a Building with Both Feet on the Brake? Nobody Knows.

Juanita Grossman was a petite 77-year-old woman who died from the injuries sustained from barreling into a building full-speed in her 2003 Camry in March 2004. When the emergency medical technicians arrived to transport Mrs. Grossman to the hospital they found her with both feet still jammed on the brake pedal.

Mrs. Grossman was still conscious, and in the days before she succumbed to her injuries, she kept telling her family: The car ran away on me. The car ran way on me. These statements and the placement of both feet on the brake – verified by two independent witnesses at the scene of the crash – did not rouse the curiosity of Toyota or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was in the midst of an investigation into Toyota’s electronic throttle control system when ODI investigators learned of her death.

Toyota Identifies Yet Another Potential Cause of Sudden Acceleration

Safety Research & Strategies letter to Administrator Strickland asks why Toyota it wasn’t recalling its accessory sport pedals. The automaker has identified these aftermarket accessories, which it sells and installs through Toyota dealers, as contributors to unintended acceleration.

Toyota made this startling admission in denying a claim by Michael Teston, an unfortunate Toyota customer from Maaumelle, Arkansas.

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