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. Continue reading

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: Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Toyota Washington Watch

We sat through the National Academies of Science first public meeting to tackle the Electronic Vehicle Controls and Unintended Acceleration Study, a NHTSA-sponsored effort to look broadly at the issue, and we are happy to see that the agency has brought in some outside expertise.

This is truly an opportunity for the regulators to advance their knowledge base beyond the era of the mechanical automobile and into the age of automotive electronics, rapidly migrating from a vehicle’s entertainment center to its most basic functions of acceleration, braking and steering. It is critical to future policy setting and defect analysis. Continue reading

Waxman Probes Toyota’s Deal with Doubt

When the auto industry needs America’s best scientific minds to validate a foregone conclusion, they turn to Exponent. As we reported during Toyota Tactics Week, David Michaels called out the Menlo Park, California defense-litigation firm in his 2008 book Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health:

“Exponent’s scientists are prolific writers of scientific reports and papers. While some might exist, I have yet to see an Exponent study that does not support the conclusion needed by the corporation or trade association that is paying the bill,” Michaels wrote.

Which brings us to the news: the House Committee on Energy and Commerce has scheduled their second Toyota hearing on May 6 to focus in part on the automaker’s work with Exponent to ferret out any possible electronic root causes of Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

In April 16 letters to Toyota Motor Sales President and CEO James Lentz and Exponent’s Paul Johnson, Committee Chairman Henry Waxman and Bart Stupak chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, asked for:

* All contracts or agreements between Exponent and Toyota or an agent of Toyota regarding work related to unintended acceleration or electronic throttle control systems and any amendments or addendums thereto;

* All memoranda or correspondence, including e-mail, concerning the scope of Exponent’s work for Toyota or an agent of Toyota related to unintended acceleration or the electronic throttle control systems; and

* Any documents, including reports, analyses, or other communications, describing the results of Exponent’s work for Toyota related to unintended acceleration or electronic throttle control systems.

The views of Waxman and Stupak on Exponent’s scientific independence were already sufficiently jaundiced in the first go-round. On February 22, Waxman and Stupak sent a letter expressing their extreme irritation with Toyota for dumping a truckload of documents, with nary a piece of paper devoted to systematically investigating whether electronic defects could lead to sudden unintended acceleration – except for the Exponent report. They wrote:

“The electronics testing documents Toyota provided include thousands of pages of
engineering standards; test methods; pre-production vehicle and component evaluations; e-mail correspondence between Toyota engineers about field testing of new features of the company’s ETCS-i system; engineering change instructions; reports on field testing of competitor vehicles; and sketches, diagrams, test engineering reports, photographs, e-mails, and Powerpoint presentations by Toyota and part manufacturers related to proposed fixes for “sticky pedals.”

Except for one recent report, the documents did not include any analyses that purported comprehensively to test and analyze possible electronic causes of sudden unintended acceleration. The only document Toyota produced that claims to address the phenomenon of sudden unintended acceleration in a systematic way is a February 2010 report on testing conducted by Exponent, a scientific and engineering consulting firm located in Menlo Park, California. This report was commissioned in December 2009 by Toyota defense counsel Bowman and Brooke, LLP. Exponent representatives told the Committee staff that Bowman and Brooke requested the report just days before its publication date of February 4, 2010, at approximately the same time that we sought substantiation of your claims about electronics testing. According to Exponent, at the time the report was written, testing was still on-going and an interim report like this one is not customary for the company.”

The Committee has been using electronics expert Michael Pecht, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, and director of the University’s Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE), and veteran automotive engineer Neil Hanneman to locate the dross in Exponent’s first report.

What treasures might they find in this new cache of documents? Technical revelations? Or a behind-the-scenes view of the science-for-hire business?

More on Toyota SUA

Toyota SUA: Real Stories

Manufacturing Doubt in Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration

Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels is on our nightstands right now, and we cannot shake the feeling of déjà vu. Michaels, recently confirmed as the new head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and Assistant Secretary of Labor, writes about the attack, deny and delay tactics developed by Big Tobacco in the 1950s that have been adopted and refined to a fare-thee-well by countless other industries. Michaels is an epidemiologist, so his dizzying catalogue of bad actors focuses on chemical health hazards – tobacco, chromium, lead, beryllium, and the like.

But what caught our attention was his exploration of how manufacturers use science – or the appearance thereof – to raise enough doubt to clog the regulatory machinery and to persuade juries and the public that their products cause no harm by countering scientific studies indicating a hazard with their own bought-and-paid-for-research showing the opposite. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Smear

What do you do when bad news about you product gets out? If your highly prized brand is synonymous with reliability, job one is to kill the bearers of the bad tidings. While Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration stories regularly set up shop on the front pages of all national dallies these days, Safety Research and Strategies had been following this story closely for months before it broke through into the mainstream press.

After the Saylor family died in an SUA crash on a California highway in August, and Congress was poised to drag Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before its investigatory committees, SRS decided that a factual accounting of the history of this issue was necessary. We threw the resources of our small company into this project and wrote a lengthy report that gathered the public record into one narrative. We released Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration to the public on February 5, and it became a much used road map for reporters, Congressional staffers, attorneys and interested consumers trying to understand how seven years of complaints, crashes, deaths, injuries and NHTSA investigations could produce so few results. Continue reading

Our Advocacy

One of the fiery moments in Tuesday’s hearing before the House Energy and Commerce Committee was Rep. Steven Buyer’s (R-Ind.) prosecutorial turn on SRS founder and President Sean Kane. Buyer attempted to undermine Kane’s testimony, and that of Dr. David Gilbert, whose early research into Toyota’s accelerator pedal position sensor showed that Toyota’s fail-safe strategy was supremely flawed, by suggesting that they had been tainted by their ties to litigation. Continue reading