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NHTSA Finds No Electronic Defects With Toyota

But findings don’t completely clear troubled Japanese maker.

by on Aug.11, 2010

NHTSA cannot find electronic gremlins in Toyota vehicles, and says many unintended acceleration incidents resulted from driver error.

Federal safety regulators are giving Toyota some much-needed good news, though they aren’t completely absolving the troubled Japanese maker in an ongoing safety scandal.

With Toyota facing a rash of lawsuits for its various safety problems – legal problems some analysts estimate could cost the maker more than $2 billion to resolve – there’s significant good news for the  Japanese company in the finding by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it could not find any sign of electronic glitches that might cause Toyota vehicles to unexpectedly race out of control.

In fact, after reviewing the vehicle data recorders taken from scores of Toyota products involved in unintended acceleration incidents, NHTSA found that the brakes were not applied in 35 of 58 cases.  That finding, supported by black box data, suggests that driver error, rather than mechanical problems, were responsible. This should not be surprising to anyone who has followed the history of such charges.

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The additional incidents, however, appear to be the result of mechanical – but not electronic defects.  Toyota has so far recalled more than 8 million cars, trucks and crossovers to resolve problems that could cause a vehicle’s accelerator to stick, including faulty accelerators and loose carpets that could jam under the accelerator pedal.


Toyota’s Global Troubles: Cosmic Rays and Lawyers

No sign the safety crisis at the world’s largest maker is ending.

by on Mar.16, 2010

The bottom line is only one place Toyota could take a beating in the months to come, after CEO Akio Toyoda took his own hits at a Congressional hearing.

In the comic books, cosmic rays are likely to turn your big, green and mean, or give you the ability to fly and turn invisible.  But frustrated in their attempts to find a cause for still-unexplained problems with Toyota vehicles that allegedly race out of control, investigators are now looking at the possibility that rare cosmic ray strikes could cause onboard computer systems to race out of control.

Toyota is finding itself in an unusual and increasingly untenable position.  The maker has already recalled more than 8 million vehicles around the world.  But despite its efforts to focus on two fixes – and several high-profile efforts to dismiss critics who contend there are other, as yet-unidentified problems with electronic controls – there’s little sign the safety crisis surrounding the world’s largest automaker is about to end.

Quite the contrary.  Though a hefty increase in incentive spending is bringing buyers back to U.S. showrooms, sales are slipping in other parts of the world, notably Europe, where Toyota struggled long and hard to crack into a market much less open to Asian imports than the States.

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Meanwhile, hundreds of plaintiff attorneys are queuing up for the right to take the automaker on in court in what could turn into one of the most contentious legal battles ever involving the auto industry, observers warn.


Q&A: Toyota’s Don Esmond

"We stumbled," admits vet, but incentives are helping sales.

by on Mar.11, 2010

"Our owners deserve an answer," says Toyota's Senior Vice President Don Esmond.

“Sometimes I feel like it’s back in 1969 and I’m flying medevacs, taking fire and occasionally getting hit,” says Don Esmond, a slight grimace showing through his smile.

A decorated helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, Toyota’s senior vice president of automotive operations is once again maneuvering through a battleground, but this time it’s the company taking flak for an ongoing series of safety issues that have led to the recall of more than 8 million vehicles – and which have been tentatively linked to a rising number of accidents, injuries and fatalities.

In typical fashion, Esmond has been focused on his mission, or more precisely, missions.  The first challege, he says, is to make sure Toyota’s products are safe, even if that meant briefly shutting down five U.S. assembly lines.  With the plants going, the next step is getting all products involved in the recalls repaired.

But longer-term, Toyota has to rebuild a seriously tarnished image and regain its once daunting momentum – something Esmond admits will be “a little more difficult under the circumstances.”  But a new incentive campaign, putting as much as $3,000 on the hood of some Toyota models may be doing its job, early sale numbers suggest.

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To get a better sense of what’s happening and what’s ahead for Toyota, caught up with the veteran Esmond in the midst of a series of “fireside chats” with the company’s dealers.


Toyota: Not All Pedal Repairs Properly Completed

Maker admits bad fixes. Still rejects electronic problems.

by on Mar.08, 2010

New complaints it's said come from repairs not properly done - at least in some cases

Toyota officials acknowledge that some owners may be experiencing additional problems with unintended acceleration because dealers did not properly complete recall repairs.

That revelation came during a news conference designed to counter claims made during last month’s Congressional investigation of Toyota safety problems that the automaker’s vehicles may be prone to electronic failure that could lead them to surge out of control.

During a more than hour-long session with reporters, the troubled automaker repeatedly sought to discredit the study by Prof. David Gilbert, of Southern Illinois University.  Among other things, Toyota and its outside researchers showed that similar situations could be created on a variety of other U.S., Japanese and European-made vehicles.

But when asked to respond to a growing number of complaints filed by owners whose vehicles have experienced unintended acceleration problems even after undergoing recall repairs, the automaker said it could neither rule out that possibility, nor could it offer an explanation for the reports, now numbering over 60.

In at least some situations, acknowledged spokesman Mike Michels, the cause was likely “repairs not being done properly.”

So far, Toyota has staged two separate recalls related to unintended acceleration.  The first, announced last October, requires modifications to prevent floor mats from jamming accelerator pedals.  The more recent recall, announced in January, requires the installation of a small metal shim to prevent accelerators from sticking.


Honda Says Quality Not Issue at CR-Z Hybrid Debut

Japanese maker aims to regain momentum in hybrid segment.

by on Feb.26, 2010

Honda is launching its latest dedicated hybrid, the CR-Z, and insisting it won't run into the hybrid braking problems of Toyota's Prius.

Just what impact the safety scandal at Toyota will have on the rest of the automotive market is uncertain, but the Japanese maker’s arch-rival, Honda, is working to ensure it won’t be tainted, as well.

“Product quality is extremely important to us,” asserted Honda CEO Takanobu Ito, as the maker officially debuted its latest gasoline-electric hybrid model, the CR-Z, during a Tokyo news conference.

Initial sales reports hint that Honda may be picking up Toyota buyers, especially in the U.S. market, where the safety crisis has been widely covered by the media.

But, like other makers, Ito avoided any appearance of gloating over Toyota’s ongoing woes.  If anything, he appeared to take a cautious position about growth and the potential it brings to start making mistakes.

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Ito spoke just days after his Toyota counterpart, CEO Akio Toyoda, was grilled by an American Congressional Committee.

But it was only a few weeks earlier that Honda had to expand the recall of products including the 2001 and 2002 Accord sedan, Civic compact and Odyssey minivan because of faulty airbags.  Since the first defect announcement, 15 months ago, the number of vehicles on the callback list has grown to 437,000.

The Japanese maker did make a point of emphasizing that the 2011 Honda CR-Z uses a different braking system from the 2010 Toyota Prius and, Honda promised, would not suffer the same problems — in which brakes can unexpectedly release when a Prius hits a bump or a slick patch of road,


After D.C. Hearings, Now What for Toyota?

Reluctant CEOs appearance not enough to begin brand’s turnaround from the damages of an ongoing safety scandal.

by on Feb.25, 2010

Toyota CEO Toyoda was cool under fire, but may not have doused the flames of the safety scandal.

Throughout a blistering afternoon that could have broken a weaker man, Akio Toyoda, often described as the “reluctant” President and CEO of embattled Toyota Motor Co., retained a sense of cool as he stared down the members of a Congressional committee investigating problems that have not only resulted in the recall of millions of Toyota products but tattered a reputation the maker has spent decades cultivating.

It was a critical moment for both Toyota and Toyoda, the executive initially declining to come to Washington, then reversing that stand in the wake of furious headlines.  But with a relatively weak grip on English, and the likelihood that the members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee would engage as much in a sort of Kabuki theater as a real inquiry, many observers wondered whether the 53-year grandson of Toyota’s founder could salvage both the automaker’s reputation – and his own.

Sticking close to the script, Toyoda wouldn’t give much ground, despite the toughest questions.  But neither would he yield many details – leaving that up to his subordinates.  And there may lie the real future of Toyota, for in two days of testimony before a pair of Capitol Hill committees, the company that has long stressed safety and quality as its hallmarks suddenly seems both more interested in the bottom line and less able to build safe, reliable cars.

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Toyoda’s appearance before the Oversight Committee began on a reasonably congenial note.  After swearing in, the Toyota chief executive read from a prepared statement in a heavily accented but understandable English.  And, as he has done during three news conferences, back in Japan, in recent weeks, Toyoda began with an apology for the problems his company has caused.

“My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers,” said the man often referred to as “The Prince,” back in Japan.  In turn, the assembled Congress men and women offered polite thanks for Toyoda’s decision to come to Washington.  But the friendly tone didn’t last very long, and the executive switched to working in Japanese, through a translator.


Horror of Saylor Fatal Lexus Accident Reviewed at Opening of Congressional Hearing

Toyota and NHTSA excoriated for “troubling patterns” of ignoring safety. Toyota unintended acceleration unresolved.

by on Feb.24, 2010

“If Camry and Prius were airplanes they would be grounded,” said Towns.

Committee chairman Edolphus Towns opened his Toyota safety hearings today with harsh words:  “NHTSA failed the taxpayers. Toyota failed their customers – we now have 39 deaths attributed to Toyota products,” said Towns.

“If Camry and Prius were airplanes they would be grounded,” said Towns.

Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said that  any of the Toyota vehicles subject to recall “are not safe.”

“If your car is listed take it to the dealer to get it fixed,” said LaHood.

Toyota’s recalls – thus far – address  five separate Toyota product safety issues. In total, some 5.3 million Toyota vehicles across 14 model lines  are affected by one or more of
these recalls in the United States.

Millions more Toyota products are involved in global recalls.

LaHood says NHTSA has the resources to enforce safety laws.

Toyota, of course, initially and subsequently asserted that unintended acceleration was solely the result of “pedal entrapment” from floor mats.

That assertion was negated when NHTSA investigators found the floor mats of a Toyota locked in the trunk of a vehicle that was involved in a fatal accident.   (more…)

Three Charges Arise at Hearing on Toyota Safety

Both Toyota and NHTSA accused of cover-ups, incompetence and unacceptable behavior at the first House Hearing.

by on Feb.23, 2010

In sworn testimony today, Toyota's U.S. head Jim Lentz now admits that 70% of unintended acceleration complaints are not covered by current Toyota recalls. Worse, recall authority resided in Japan. Then, Lentz admitted he was unaware of the safety recall procedures in use at Toyota globally. The flow of information was one way - from the U.S. to Japan, said Lentz. The Japanese did not share global information about defects with Toyota U.S. or its American consumers or with NHTSA.

Politicians Henry Waxman, Chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and sub-committee chairman  on Oversight Investigation,  Bart Stupak, kicked off a hearing in Washington late this morning with three specific charges against Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

It was just the beginning of  a tough hearing that showed how badly Toyota is out of touch with customer concerns.

As the hearing progressed there were also other accusations about Toyota’s lack of concern for its customers and claims of ignorance on the part of Toyota’s U.S. head about Toyota’s apparently secret safety procedures.

Both Waxman and Stupak are of course running for reelection this year, as is the rest of the lower house of Congress amid voter frustration about Congressional incompetence in the face of rising unemployment and its ongoing failure to institute reforms that would make illegal the ongoing Wall Street practices that led to the collapse of the global financial markets that caused the continuing  Great Recession.

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So the hearing gives Congressmen a unique opportunity to express concern in a rare  non-partisan way that they actually care about something that the voters are concerned about – as opposed to the issues of the lobbyists who constantly court them and provide post-public-office  jobs for them.  (I realize this is a dubious assertion.)

It was in this context that Waxman and Stupak said that a “preliminary review” of the documents provided by Toyota raised three concerns.  (more…)

Face-Off in Washington

Forget the Olympics…the action is in Washington.

by on Feb.23, 2010

Toyota hopes to overcome mounting problems with a promise to do better.

There’s plenty of action all around Vancouver, as the Winter Olympics enter their final days, but the real face-off won’t be between the U.S. and Russian hockey teams, but between U.S. lawmakers and officials from Toyota gathered today and tomorrow on Capitol Hill.

The House Energy and Conference Committee will be looking into the ongoing scandal involving Toyota’s sudden rash of safety problems.

The carefully-planned event could have all the drama of a race for Olympic gold, but the impact could be far longer-reaching for the Japanese automaker.

The challenge for Toyota will be to strike a balance between acknowledging it made mistakes, say industry analysts, while also showing that it is taking the necessary steps to fix defective vehicles and prevent future problems.  Part of the challenge for the maker will be proving a negative that its cars, trucks and crossovers do not suffer from as yet-unidentified electronic glitches that can lead them to race out of control.

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“In recent months, we have not lived up to the high standards our customers and the public have come to expect from Toyota,” said Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. in prepared testimony. “Put simply, it has taken us too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues, despite all of our good faith efforts.”


Editorial: Leaked Toyota Documents Raise Questions About Safety Regulators as Well

Toyota calls NHTSA limited recall a “win,” but did the federal auto "safety” agency actually abandon safety?

by on Feb.22, 2010

Newly leaked documents could be troublesome for Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda during this week's Capitol Hill hearings, but are U.S. safety regulators just as much to blame?

With Toyota slated to be the target of a high-profile hearing on Capitol Hill, tomorrow, Congressional insiders leaked a damaging internal document showing the automaker celebrating a “win” after convincing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to limit the size of a recall due to unintended acceleration problems.

But Toyota is not the only entity in trouble – if you take a more reasoned, non-sound bite look.

A classic Washington blame game is now emerging as the three major – and entirely self-interested – parties vie for advantage in the run-up to the well-publicized Congressional hearings.

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Toyota, NHTSA and politicians running for reelection (in the face of fierce voter resentment of incumbents, partisan politics and pay for play “public servants”) are under scrutiny. And what is emerging is a sordid tale involving all in our view.

You’ll find the full story after the break.

(There’s been a long-running battle between automakers and government regulators, as contributing editor Mike Davis, a one-time Ford PR executive recalls in this special report for Click Here for that story.)

(With Toyota officials now facing what could become a criminal investigation, could some company executives have a visit to “Club Fed” in their future? Click Here for the full story.)