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.”

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.

Every Time We Learn Something Else, It Gets Worse (for Toyota)

Some day, possibly very soon, the Harvard Business School is going to do a case study on Toyota and sudden unintended acceleration, and two of the underlying principles are going to be: Don’t lie so (bleeping) much; and Swat not the gadfly with a sledgehammer.

We know that Toyota has compounded its technical problem with a public relations disaster, but we’re always fascinated to learn that it’s worse than we thought – to wit Toyota v. David Gilbert.

Be Careful what you Wish for Toyota

Once upon a time, there was a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard for accelerator controls. It was a very ancient standard, written in 1972, when vehicles were equipped with purely mechanical systems. FMVSS 124 Accelerator Control Systems specified the requirements for the return of a vehicle's throttle to the idle position when the driver removed the actuating force from the accelerator control or in the event of a severance or disconnection in the accelerator control system. Its purpose was “to reduce deaths and injuries resulting from engine overspeed caused by malfunctions in the accelerator control system.”

Decades passed, and so did the mechanical systems, into automotive history. The car makers began to seek the wise counsel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: did FMVSS 124 apply to electronic systems? Yes it did, NHTSA said.

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