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.

Second, neither floor mats nor sticking accelerator pedals explain many, many incidents of Toyota SUA – and yet, when floor mats was a convenient explanation, Toyota pushed it – even when it did not fit the facts. And if we want to talk about sticking accelerator pedals and Toyota’s swift and forthright action, let’s go back to the December 2005 recall for Lexus IS250s with accelerator pedals “out of tolerance” – meaning the pedal could become stuck. By December 16, Toyota sent a Notice of Defect and Noncompliance to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and four days later, a notice was over-nighted to dealers instructing them to replace the acceleration pedal assembly with a revised one, and to modify the carpet. That pedal, by the way, was manufactured by Denso – not CTS, the supplier currently being blamed.

Third, why should consumers put any stock in Toyota’s confidence? For years, Toyota insisted that there were no problems at all. It has told numerous consumers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that there is nothing wrong with its vehicles. In fact, in its first all-weather floor mat recall 07E082, even as the company filed a defect notice in September 2007, it insisted that there was no defect:

“Toyota has carefully evaluated the agency’s concerns in the defect investigation EA07-010 and has concluded that the subject vehicles do not contain a safety related defect. Witb respect to the All Weather Floor Mats that are associated with the field incidents reported in EA07-010, Toyota concluded that the mats do not contain a safety-related defect; however, Toyota agrees that an unsecured All Weather Floor Mat, especially one that is stacked on top of another floor mat, can migrate toward the accelerator pedal, potentially preventing it from returning to idle.”

Yes, yes. Careful evaluation. It’s easy to buffalo the media – most don’t read the whole record. We do. And there’s a lot more about Toyota’s role in creating this mess than you’ve read in the newspapers.