Toyota’s Quiet Buybacks Speak Up

ABC News got a hold of the amended complaint in the Multi-District Litigation and is reporting that Toyota bought back two of its vehicles after its own technicians replicated the SUA events, which were not caused by floor mats, driver error or sticky pedals. According to the ABC story, Toyota bought a 2009 Corolla in Texas and a 2009 Tacoma in California, urging the owners to keep quiet about it.

The source of these revelations is a legal foot-breaker of 725 pages. The discovery process has begun to peel back Toyota’s high-priced public relations veneer. And the complaint continues to fill in the outlines of an electronics problem SRS sketched months ago, using nothing more than the truncated public record. (Our most recent report “An Update of Toyota sudden Unintended Acceleration” is available on our website. It also documents Toyota buybacks that consumers who had experienced an SUA event had reported to us.)

Courtesy of the MDL, here are a few of the interesting tidbits to be found in the amended complaint:

An unidentified tech reports:

After traveling 20-30 feet the vehicle exhibited a slight hesitation then began to accelerate on its own. Engine speed was estimated to have gone from 1500 rpm to 5500 rpm at the time of the occurrence.

From an April 2006 field technical report on a 2007 Camry:

“Vehicle lunges forward when coming to a stop.

Diagnostic Steps:

• Drove vehicle at 55mph, got vehicle to go into 5th gear, when slowing down and coming to stop, right at 5 mph the vehicle would lunge forward

• Drove vehicle in 4th gear, and when coming to a stop, once the vehicle reached 5mph, vehicle would lunge forward

• Drove vehicle in 3rd gear, and when coming to a stop, when the vehicle reached 5mph, vehicle would lunge forward

• Each of these test were complete with the A/C on and off, no change

Probable Cause

Unknown.”

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

“They all do it.” Hmm. That’s very different from some of Toyota’s confident public announcements. Why just recently, Steve St. Angelo, chief quality officer for North America, was telling reporters: “Toyota has not found a single case in which electronics would lead to sudden unintended acceleration.”

According to ABC, NHTSA didn’t find out about either of these instances until recently. Toyota technicians were witnessing and documenting SUA events from 2003 onward – malfunctions that set no DTCs. All the while, Toyota is touting its never-fail fault detection system to the agency, chatting up non-existent carpet floor mat witness marks in one petitioner’s Lexus to ODI investigators, claiming it had never heard of an instance of SUA that couldn’t be blamed on a floor mat, a pedal or an old lady.

We know that SUA is an emotionally charged issue, an investigatory black hole, a can o’ worms nobody at ODI really wanted to open, but one wonders: At what point does the agency get tired of being played?

[Note:  Corrections to this blog post can be found at the following:  The Corrections]

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