Hindsight’s Still 20-20: The Toyota Quality Report

We here at the Safety Record Blog are getting caught up on our blogging after a hectic  before-the-holiday-weekend week attending Edmund.com’s Let’s Blame it on the Drivers conference and releasing our response to the NHTSA and NESC report on Toyota. If you haven’t had a chance to read this special edition of The Safety Record, you can catch it here.

And son of a gun if Toyota didn’t release its long awaited quality report on the same day! (A little awkward, we know.) This panel of Very Serious People outside of the company was charged with the task of evaluating just what went wrong:

“The Charter directs the Panel to conduct a thorough and independent review of the soundness of these processes and provide its assessment to Toyota’s senior management.”

Keeping Automakers’ Sales Truly Safe: The Edmund’s Conference

SRS was in attendance, Tuesday, as the cyber sales team at Edmund’s ushered in a “new chapter in the conversation between government, the auto industry, safety advocates, academics and consumers, marked by thoughtful, data-driven contributions from all.”

It was written amid cocktails and at more sobering and highly-scripted venues inside the Newseum, the 250,000 square-foot monument to journalism in Washington DC.  If Edmund’s is going to author the new chapter on safety, consumers beware.

In the conference brochure, Edmund’s CEO Jeremy Anwyl tells participants that the Toyota Unintended Acceleration crisis was the impetus for the meeting: “Edmunds.com watched as a shallow conversation made international headlines. We felt uneasy about the lack of real discussion taking place among smart people with the power to change laws, introduce technology and educate drivers.”

NHTSA-NASA Reports Show That Toyota Electronics are Deficient – Can Lead to Unintended Acceleration: Toyota’s Involvement Exposed in New Documents

REHOBOTH, MASS – The Safety Record, Safety Research & Strategies’ watchdog publication, published its new findings on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC) reports on Toyota Unintended Acceleration.  Following extensive review of those reports and previously unavailable documents recently released by NHTSA and interviews with numerous scientists and experts, the authors found that:

  • - NASA identified numerous failures in Toyota electronics that could lead to unwanted acceleration.
  • - The report was heavily influenced by Toyota and its experts, including Exponent.
  • - The reports were narrowly construed examinations of limited vehicles and components.
  • - Much of the reports remain shrouded in secrecy.

What Got Stuck in NHTSA’s Craw

More than a year ago, NHTSA whomped Toyota upside the pocketbook with a $16.4 million fine for failing to recall 2.3 million vehicles with defective accelerator pedals. It was just slightly more than chump change to billionaire Toyota, but at the time, everyone gasped at the largest civil penalty the agency had levied against an automaker –ever.

As described by Toyota, the so-called sticky pedals, manufactured by supplier CTS, were slow to return to idle and could become stuck in a partially depressed position. Just for the record, we’d like to remind our readers that the SRS has always argued that a sticky pedal has nothing to do with unintended acceleration--which is not to say that this problem isn't a safety defect -- it just doesn't lead to the type of unintended acceleration incidents reported by drivers.  But NHTSA and Toyota have always enjoyed conflating the two, without offering any evidence that sticky pedals cause unintended acceleration events. It gave the appearance that all concerned were actually doing something about the problem.

Sticky Throttles Everywhere!

Too bad Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota NASCAR wasn’t equipped with an electronic throttle. ‘Cause if it did, no way would he have taken that hard hit in the turn at the Martinsville Speedway yesterday.

The veteran NASCAR driver emerged from his flaming Toyota unscathed – and puzzled.

Another Toyota Verdict Is In

It took a hot New York minute for Toyota to announce on its website that it had won a “key” unintended acceleration case. Today, a New York jury in the Eastern District of New York delivered a favorable verdict to Toyota in the case of Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla, who claimed an errant floor mat responsible for the crash of his 2005 Scion.

Another Attack of the Killer Floor Mats: Sarasota Edition

Dear Toyota:

Why did you buy back Tim Scott’s 2007 Lexus RX? We mean, really? You gave him a bunch of different reasons, but he doesn’t believe you. (We’re finding it a little hard to swallow, too.)

Awaiting your reply,

SRS

Here’s Tim Scott’s story. In early December, as NHTSA and NASA were putting the finishing touches on their reports saying that there is nothing wrong with Toyota’s electronics or software, Scott experienced an unintended acceleration event in his 2007 Lexus RX350, on his way home from the gym. Here’s the narrative that Scott, 46, the chief financial officer for the International Union of Police Associations, wrote:

NHTSA Shuts the Door on Toyota Electronics in High Speed SUA – NASA, Not so Much

In his characteristically colorful way, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told reporters today: “We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics system, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended, high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.”

LaHood issued this scientific proclamation based on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration “rigorous” examination of nine Toyotas in which the drivers complained about Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

What We Know About Toyota Electronics

While NHTSA and NASA have been busy in their test labs, we’ve been busy doing some testing of our own. And, although our findings are preliminary, we’re uncovering important clues to the gaps in Toyota’s electronic safety net. We haven’t seen NHTSA’s report, but we’re hearing the sound of hands dusting themselves off and feet walking away. What’s troubling is examinations of the complaint data consistently show statistically significant increases in SUA complaints in Toyota models when equipped with its Electronic Throttle Control system.

Toyota Replicated Incidents

Safety Research & Strategies has obtained internal Toyota documents that illustrate Toyota has successfully duplicated unintended acceleration incidents related to electronic failures.

Rhonda Smith’s incident involving a 2007 ES 350 occurred on Oct. 12, 2006, and shortly thereafter, Toyota brought in a Field Technical Specialist to inspect the vehicle. According to Toyota’s internal documents:

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