The Corrections

Apparently, when Toyota isn’t conducting secret polls to destroy our reputation, it’s reading our blogs. (We blush.) Yesterday, we got an e-mail from Mr. Mike Michels himself! Michels, Toyota’s Vice President of Communications, asked us to correct a paragraph in our post entitled “Toyota’s Quiet Buybacks Speak Up.”

We quoted an allegation from the Multi-District Litigation, which purported to show that Mike Robinson, Toyota’s Technical Supervisor of the Quality Assurance Powertrain Group, Toyota/Lexus Product Quality & Service Support, was an Avalon owner who had experienced an SUA incident. This is what we reported:

Here’s a May 2007 note from a technical supervisor:

“(I) Have recently purchased a 2006 Avalon LTD and have experienced the hesitation problem. The situation is dangerous … not so much the hesitation as the lunge after the hesitation. Toyota had better get going quick as I predict this will result in numerous accidents and possible deaths. I have talked with my service manager and he said,

“they all do it.”

Regards,

Mike

Mike Robinson

Technical Supervisor, Quality Assurance Powertrain Group

Toyota/Lexus Product Quality & Service Support

Michels kindly sent us an internal document to prove that the above was actually a customer complaint which Toyota had mined from an Internet forum in which Toyota owners discussed problems with their vehicles. The comment was among others listed in an e-mail among Toyota managers.

We, here at The Safety Record Blog, believe in setting the record straight. So, while we did quote the MDL complaint accurately, we will happily clarify the context:

  • Mike Robinson is not the owner of a 2006 Avalon LTD, which suffered from an unfortunate habit of lunging forward.
  • In 2007, Toyota employee Gordon Rush was gathering drivability complaints regarding the Avalon. Most of the complaints actually appear to be from within the company’s internal consumer complaint database, and they allege that the Avalon lurches and that these unexpected surges “scare us;” are “annoying and dangerous;” and “when at stop sign, vehicle jump [sic] out.”
  • Mike Robinson was among the Toyota managers discussing the collection of these complaints.

In the spirit of substantive accuracy, we sent Mr. Michels a response, requesting that Toyota make an immediate correction to public statements it has made about his company’s electronics and their characterization of SRS president Sean Kane and Southern Illinois University auto electronics professor Dr. David Gilbert.

Toyota has consistently maintained that unintended acceleration cannot occur without driver input (or mechanical interference) and that it has observed no instances of unintended acceleration.

In November, Irv Miller, then-Group Vice President of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. told ABC News, “We can come up with no indication whatsoever that there is a throttle or electronic control system malfunction.”[1]

More recently, the automaker’s chief quality officer for North America affirmed this position to reporters: “Toyota has not found a single case in which electronics would lead to sudden unintended acceleration,” said Steve St. Angelo of the company’s investigations of 4,200 acceleration-related complaints.[2]

Well before Toyota’s unintended acceleration crisis hit the news, the company told NHTSA: “With regard to allegations of unintended acceleration, Toyota does not believe that uncontrollable acceleration can occur without the driver applying the accelerator pedal because of the several detection systems described above.[3]

Toyota has maintained this position despite evidence from its technicians and outside experts.  Quite simply, these statements are not accurate.

Further, Toyota has consistently maintained that its fault detection system can not and does not fail, and that the absence of Diagnostic Trouble Codes means a malfunction did not occur.

In its 2004 response to NHTSA Preliminary Evaluation 04-021, Toyota said:

“In the event of a multi-point failure (one of the CPUs and any sensor or sensors) the system will go into failsafe mode and illuminate the engine warning lamp because of the built in redundancies in the ETC system.” [4]

“If a single or multi-point failure were to occur, the ECU would signal a DTC and put the system into one of its failsafe modes.”[5]

It is well known among automotive technicians that abnormalities are not always captured by the engine’s ECU and that DTCs are not always set.  In an August 2010 recall intended to correct stalling in 2005-2008 Corolla and Corolla Matrix vehicles, Toyota submitted field technical reports on the problem, many of which noted that diagnostic trouble codes were not set, even when the technician could duplicate the problem. This concedes that Toyota’s fault-detection system does not always function properly and does fail to detect abnormalities and set trouble codes.

In a February public opinion poll commissioned by Toyota, the company made inaccurate statements regarding the character of Safety Research & Strategies President Sean Kane and Southern Illinois University auto electronics professor:

“Sean Kane, a paid consultant for plaintiffs’ lawyers suing Toyota, and David Gilbert, an academic working for him, deliberately deceived Congress and the American people.”[6]

We at SRS have merely gathered what was available through the public record. We did not and have not intentionally or inadvertently deceived anyone.

This is just the short list. We’re confident that with access to the entire record, we could find more examples of Toyota statements in need of correction.



[1] Toyota Recall Fails to Address 'Root Cause' of Many Sudden Acceleration Cases, Safety Expert Says; ABC News; December 7, 2009

[2] Toyota’s Reviews Find No Electronic-Throttle Acceleration Flaw; Alan Ohnsman; Bloomberg/Business Week; October 4, 2010

[3] DP05-002; Toyota Response; Chris Tinto; Toyota Motor Corp.; November 15, 2005

[4] PE04-021; Toyota Response; Chris Tinto; Toyota Motor Corp.; July 19, 2004

[5] PE04-021; Toyota Response; Chris Tinto; Toyota Motor Corp.; July 19, 2004

[6] Kane/Gilbert Message Test; Benenson Strategy Group; 2010

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