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Toyota Touts Safety in New Ad Campaign

Beleaguered company is trying to move off incentives to stop a sales slide, and improve its image in the United States.

by on Jun.09, 2010

Toyota is backing off national incentive advertising in favor of a brand image campaign. Meanwhile, record incentives continue.

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. is promoting its so called Star Safety System, which combines five technologies as standard equipment on all new Toyota models as part of a new national advertising campaign in its latest attempt to increase sales.  (See Toyota Incentives Slow, But Don’t Halt U.S. Slide)

The marketing program has Toyota owners and engineers talking about safety and quality via television, print, digital (www.toyota.com/safety), radio and outdoor advertising media.

The Star Safety System includes Vehicle Stability Control (VSC), Traction Control (TRAC), Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. All of these technologies are in widespread use by most automakers, but not necessarily bundled together in one package across the entire line. Whether this matters to individual buyers, who buy one vehicle at a time, is debatable, but from a corporate marketing perspective Toyota needs to bolster its safety image. (more…)

NHTSA Ups Toyota Death Tally

As many as 89 could be dead from unintended acceleration.

by on May.26, 2010

Toyota's product liability woes continue to grow.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has more than 6,200 complaints involving sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus models, including 89 deaths and 57 injuries.

The safety agency, which is under attack by Congressmen and safety advocates for not doing its job, revised the estimates sharply upward from its previous estimate of 52 fatalities reported from 2000 to mid-May of this year.

David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA recently said that recall investigations will be made faster, and the recall form simplified to shorten the length of time drivers are “exposed to risk” if there is a problem with a vehicle. (See NHTSA Head Calls for Speedier Recalls)

Toyota Motor was fined a record $16.4 million for its failure to act on the problem and for failing to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of a dangerous pedal defect for almost four months.

Toyota said in a statement that it was “making an all-out effort to ensure our vehicles are safe, and we remain committed to investigating reported incidents of unintended acceleration in our vehicles quickly.”

The Japanese automaker is facing hundreds of lawsuits in the U.S.

NHTSA Head Calls for Speedier Recalls

A more “active” safety agency appears to be well underway.

by on May.25, 2010

David L. Strickland was sworn in January 4, 2010. Prior to his appointment, he served for eight years on the staff of the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. As the Senior Counsel for the Consumer Protection Subcommittee, he was the lead staff person for the oversight of NHTSA, the Federal Trade Commission, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission. He also served as the lead Senate staff person in the formulation of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) reforms and standards included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. He held a staff leadership role in the 2005 reauthorization of NHTSA in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act -- a Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU).

NHTSA is the most recent regulatory body under scrutiny for failure to regulate.

The fallout from  Toyota’s cover-up of unintended acceleration problems and the lack of action at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration continues to reverberate in Washington in ways that will affect all automakers and possibly make our roads safer.

David Strickland, Administrator of NHTSA, in a speech before the Rubber Manufacturers Association annual meeting, said that recall investigations will be made faster, and the recall form simplified to shorten the length of time drivers are “exposed to risk” if there is a problem with a vehicle.

In return, Strickland – while acknowledging that the auto industry faces complex issues involving  rising fuel prices, energy independence, climate change and environment concerns, the wireless world – said he expects “automakers to deal with us honestly, thoroughly, and in a timely manner.” (See Toyota Broke Law! NHTSA Seeks Maximum Fines)

Strickland, an Obama Administration political appointee who took office this past January, has previously said “no mistakes” were made by the safety agency under him or prior administrators, an assertion that was met with open skepticism by many during the Congressional hearings on the Toyota fiasco.  (See NHTSA Did Its Job Handling Toyota Floor Mat and Pedal Recalls, Claims Administrator David Strickland )

NHTSA is charged by critics with failing to do its job as the nation’s safety agency in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration and stuck accelerator pedal matters. More than 50 deaths are now alleged to have occurred because of these safety related defects, and hundreds of lawsuits have been filed.

In addition, an open issue remains about whether Toyota engine control software could also be causing some of the ongoing incidents. NHTSA now has NASA scientists with expertise in a computer-controlled electronic systems, electromagnetic interference and software integrity studying unintended vehicle acceleration in Toyotas. (See National Academy of Sciences and NASA to Study Unintended Acceleration Issues for DOT)

“NASA’s review will be comprehensive and will assist us in determining whether Toyota vehicles contain any flaws that would warrant a defect investigation,” said Strickland.

(more…)

NHTSA Did Its Job Handling Toyota Floor Mat and Pedal Recalls, Claims Administrator Strickland

Toyota responded too slowly, though, he admits when pressed.

by on Mar.11, 2010

“No mistakes” were made by the safety agency under either him or prior administrators.

David Strickland, the newly appointed administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, vigorously defended the agency’s actions during the decade that complaints grew about Toyota unintended acceleration problems. Strickland testified before the Subcommittee On Commerce, Trade, And Consumer Protection of the U.S. House Of Representatives this afternoon.

Strickland, an Obama Administration political appointee who took office this past January, said “no mistakes” were made by the safety agency under either him or prior administrators, an assertion that was met with open skepticism by some of the panelists.

NHTSA is charged with failing to do its job as the nation’s safety agency in the ongoing Toyota unintended acceleration and stuck accelerator pedal matters. More than 60 deaths are now alleged to have occurred because of these safety related defects. And an open issue remains about whether Toyota engine control software could also be causing some of the ongoing incidents.

Moreover, it took a visit to Japan by the U.S. Secretary of Transportation and the former acting administrator of NHTSA to force Japanese executives to initiate a recall. It emerged in previous hearings that Toyota’s American executives are mere figureheads, with no power to order a safety recall.

It also has become clear that Japanese executives only share limited amounts of engineering information with its American subsidiary. Some news organizations have gone so far as to dub Toyota’s management practices a new form of “colonialism.” NHTSA was charged with being a “lapdog” for the auto industry by some critics.

Strickland admitted under questioning that domestic automakers “tend to respond faster” to safety inquiries than do foreign ones.

Strickland’s appearance in what was now the fourth congressional hearing in the past month about how Toyota and NHTSA handled growing concerns about the safety of the Toyota vehicles opened with a statement by him that posed a series of questions about NHTSA’s ability to function.

“The reality is that while the current authority works and the various constituencies have learned to work with them, they were written in the 1960s and 1970s, when the world and the automobile market were profoundly different,” said Strickland. “The question I pose, and the answers I want to have, is whether NHTSA’s statutory authorities accommodate the modern automobile? The modern competitive marketplace?”

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“More importantly, do they allow us to regulate in a way that allows the industry to build and sell safe products that the consumer wants to drive? Do they allow us to promote safety, innovation, and fuel efficiency while still providing effective regulatory and enforcement oversight? And do they allow NHTSA to move at pace with the industry?” Strickland said.

“I’ve asked our legal and program staff to take a look at our existing authorities; to answer these questions; and to make their best recommendations.

Sadly, while the rhetoric was finely honed in the best Obama Administration tradition, Strickland provided no answers to these when pressed by the committee.   (more…)

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.

(more…)

NHTSA Has Five Electrical, One Software Engineer!

Short staffing at safety agency revealed for first time at U.S. Senate hearing on Toyota unintended acceleration deaths.

by on Mar.02, 2010

NHTSA’s actions – and inactions – in the years leading up to today are deeply troubling."

David Strickland, the newly appointed Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, admitted today that of the 125 engineers working on auto safety, only five are electrical engineers, and one other is a software engineer.

This was a key question that had been ducked in the two Congressional hearings last week on the Toyota safety matters.

Strickland answered the question posed once again to Secretary of Transportation, Ray LaHood who was testifying at the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation about NHTSA’s actions in Toyota unintended or uncontrolled acceleration deaths.

It was the first time that Strickland has answered a question in public about NHTSA , which is overseen by LaHood’s DOT, and it was the first time the real numbers emerged.

Since half a dozen seems a shockingly small number to oversee the safety of automotive electronics, an “allocation of resources ” debate at the huge federal agency is emerging among safety advocates.

Chairman John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV opened the hearing with withering criticism of Toyota and NHTSA.

“Now, it is clear that somewhere along the way public safety took a back seat and corporate profits drove the company’s decisions,” Rockefeller said.

Critics, including Clarence Ditlow of the Center for Auto Safety, have been pointing out how easy it is for automakers to manipulate an understaffed NHTSA on recalls and service actions to improve profitability.

Critics also contend, with increasing evidence from recalls supporting the charges, that the auto industry is far behind in the use of safe design practices governing the use of electronics and electronic control circuits that are in common use in other industries.

This will be examined in greater detail when Toyota executives testify later this afternoon.

Rockefeller then turned to NHTSA’s role in the, alleged, 52 fatalities and 38 injuries  at Toyota from unintended acceleration matters.   (more…)

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.”

(more…)