Dimitrios Biller and the Book of Knowledge

Last week, Ed Towns, Chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform went to town on Toyota, asking five very pointed questions about the automaker’s “Books of Knowledge,” compendiums purportedly containing, among other things, damning information about the automakers acknowledgement of design issues and countermeasures, by component and vehicle. References to these so-called Books of Knowledge appeared in documents produced under a committee subpoena from former Toyota counsel, Dimitrios Biller. In a letter to Yoshimi Inaba, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, Towns asked him to respond to e-mails such as this June 2005 correspondence to Toyota executive Webster Burns, regarding the Greenburg SUA lawsuit:

"When this lawsuit was threatened, no one was surprised. This issue [sudden unintended acceleration] had been the subject of a number of meetings and the exchange of a number of documents between TMS and TMC, (did anyone ever gather and organize all those documents and memorialize the "meetings"? If so, were [sic] are the documents and information about the meetings?) [emphasis indicates Biller's comments] and the possibility of a class action lawsuit was used as one way to try to get TMC to work on a series of proposed countermeasures.”

Juanita Grossman’s Story: How Do You Slam Into a Building with Both Feet on the Brake? Nobody Knows.

Juanita Grossman was a petite 77-year-old woman who died from the injuries sustained from barreling into a building full-speed in her 2003 Camry in March 2004. When the emergency medical technicians arrived to transport Mrs. Grossman to the hospital they found her with both feet still jammed on the brake pedal.

Mrs. Grossman was still conscious, and in the days before she succumbed to her injuries, she kept telling her family: The car ran away on me. The car ran way on me. These statements and the placement of both feet on the brake – verified by two independent witnesses at the scene of the crash – did not rouse the curiosity of Toyota or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which was in the midst of an investigation into Toyota’s electronic throttle control system when ODI investigators learned of her death.

Toyota Identifies Yet Another Potential Cause of Sudden Acceleration

Safety Research & Strategies letter to Administrator Strickland asks why Toyota it wasn’t recalling its accessory sport pedals. The automaker has identified these aftermarket accessories, which it sells and installs through Toyota dealers, as contributors to unintended acceleration.

Toyota made this startling admission in denying a claim by Michael Teston, an unfortunate Toyota customer from Maaumelle, Arkansas.

Death and Drive-By-Wire: New Evidence Shows Early Deaths were Ignored

We have been watching with great interest as NHTSA has suddenly proclaimed 34 deaths in Toyota sudden unintended acceleration incidents, (when nary but one has been officially counted in eight investigations) and Toyota has doubled down on nothing-is-wrong-but-floor-mats-and-sticky-accelerator-pedals. We are pleased to see that NHTSA, under the current administration, is now taking the fatality reports more seriously and Toyota’s claims with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Toyota Sudden Acceleration: The Full Report from Safety Research & Strategies

SRS has just released its comprehensive examination of Toyota SUA. Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration covers this continuing safety defect from its roots to the current crisis:

- The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's unsuccessful efforts to identify all the causes;

- Toyota's ineffective and conflicting responses;

- Who knew what and when.

Click on the image below to download the report:

Thoroughly Investigated? We Don’t Think So

This morning, Jim Lentz, President and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales, joined the brigade of executives dispatched to put out the unintended acceleration wildfire currently consuming the company’s sales, stock rating and reputation. As the Today Show’s Matt Lauer tried to corner him, Lentz emphatically insisted that the only two issues affected Toyota vehicles are floor mat interference and sticking accelerator pedals. The company has studied this issue exhaustively and is confident that these fixes will solve the problems, Lentz told Lauer, trying not to shift uncomfortably in his chair.

First, the recent recalls do not, we repeat, do not cover all of the vehicles plagued by SUA. In fact, the most troubled vehicle in Toyota’s fleet – as measured by consumer complaints, the 2002 and 2006 Camry, is not a part of any recall.

Stop the Pedals!

Toyota announced on Thursday that it was recalling about 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals, after investigating isolated reports of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms. Toyota claimed it was a wear issue – even though most of the models recalled included 2009 and 2010 model years. After the news broke, several stories noted that Toyota was continuing to sell the affected models without the remedy already applied.  While it is normal for manufacturers who recall vehicles to instruct their dealers to repair vehicles on their lots before selling them, Toyota’s announcement today covers a number of the best-selling vehicles and the company will halt production at its North American plants until it has a remedy plan. 

They Know Not what They Do

We, here at The Safety Record Blog, understand the hell of a story that breaks at 5 p.m. on a Friday, with every relevant source already on the way to his weekend and unavailable by cell. We do not understand all of the breathless second and third-day stories in which the reporter hasn’t taken the time to understand the context of the issue on which they are writing – to wit, Toyota Sudden Unintended Acceleration.

Headlines like: Toyota Knew of Sticky Throttle Problem Late Last Year, from USAToday’s DriveOn section, make us wince. Toyota has known that its vehicles suffer from unintended acceleration since May 2003, when the first consumers began demanding that NHTSA investigate this problem. That would be six-and-a-half years ago. Complaint rates, particularly on the popular Camry, coincide with the introduction of the automakers electronic throttle beginning with the 2002 model year.

Well, They Had to Do Something!

We polled a couple of graduates of the Toyota School of Hard Knocks for their reactions to Friday’s sticky accelerator pedal recall, and the consensus was: this wouldn’t address my problem.

Kevin Haggerty, owner of the 2007 Avalon that arrived at the New Jersey dealership in a state of automotive hysteria (the vehicle, not Haggerty), said he surprised by the specifics of this recall, but not by Toyota’s attempt to look responsive.

“They needed to come up with something, but I don’t think it’s going to end the problem. I don’t think the accelerator pedal stuck in my case.”

In a Los Angeles Times article, Toyota disputes this. Spokesman Bryan Lyons said that Haggerty’s experience “matches our recall finding exactly.” Of course, Toyota gave Haggerty’s Avalon entirely new pedal and throttle assemblies, but Haggerty believes that the automaker took the broadest possible repair approach for a reason:

Breaking! Roll Out the Recalls!

In a curious twist of timing, Toyota announced another massive recall related to Sudden Unintended Acceleration – this time 2.3 million late model Toyotas plagued with “sticking accelerator pedals.” The timing is suspiciously pre-emptive – the company’s feet were about to be singed an hour later by ABC World News Tonight, followed by a Toyota SUA story on ABC Nightline.

But that is hardly the only odd thing about the recall. In its announcement, the automaker said that it had received “isolated reports” of sticking accelerator pedal mechanisms:

“The condition is rare, but can occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn and, in certain conditions, the accelerator pedal may become harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position.”

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