Toyota Throws a Hissy

Last week CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 aired a six-minute-plus story about a 2006 confidential Toyota document showing that a pre-production vehicle in Japan experienced an unintended acceleration. The vehicle was an overseas model, identified as the 250L, equipped with adaptive cruise control. Its U.S. counterpart did not use that system, but the internal report did note that a “fail-safe overhaul” would be needed for another production vehicle that was sold in the U.S. -- the Toyota Tundra.

Toyota tried to fight off the story with the survival instinct of a 1,000-lb. blue marlin at the end of a reel and tackle. Its central argument was that the document had been mistranslated and the condition noted in the pre-production test had nothing to do with unintended acceleration. The automaker trotted out English language speaker and Toyota entertainment systems engineer Kristin Tabar to rebut the translation’s literal and substantive meaning. CNN paid a Japanese translation house with experience in automotive technical documents to take a crack at it, and its version was pretty similar to the first English translation. (You can watch the story here.)

There were a series of legal parleys, but when the dust settled, Toyota lost, the story aired and the public relations team was left with nothing but its poison pen. In high dudgeon, Toyota complained about CNN’s unmitigated temerity to suggest the Toyota has been less than truthful in discussing all of the possible causes of unintended acceleration in its vehicles.

The diatribe it released on Friday is pretty similar to the January jeremiad that Mike Michels, Vice President, External Communications Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., wrote in reaction to the Huffington Post’s story about tin whiskers. It hit all the key points: “overwhelming scientific evidence,” “exhaustive investigations;” “most respected engineers;” “thoroughly debunked;” yadda-yadda. And of course, what kind of pushback would it be if Toyota didn’t take a swipe at trial lawyers “and their paid advocates continuing their efforts to manufacture controversy where none exists and have used CNN to support their narrow, self-serving agenda?” (Toyota statement)

For those of you who don’t speak Toyota, Safety Research & Strategies has obtained a translation of this document. And to ensure its accuracy, we have sent it out for an independent-third party translation. In addition, our legal department has thoroughly vetted its contents. Here it is:

“We can’t believe it! We’ve been spreading cash all over the U.S. like drunken sailors! We paid Ray LaHood his stupid $32 million recall fines! We poured $50 million into American universities for safety research! (Hopefully we can use their results sometime in the future to discredit motorists in civil litigation – but we’ll see how that goes.) We gave that big-time Benenson Strategy Group top dollar for an attack strategy to shut down Sean Kane! And it’s not working! First, HuffPo and now this! Our journalists are usually more deferential! Aaaaahhhhhhh!"

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