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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…)

Consumers Union Defends Role in Missing Toyota Unintended Acceleration Problems and Deaths

Non-profit group also promises to improve its safety coverage.

by on Mar.11, 2010

Until recently a double standard was in use at Consumers Union. It is now trying to distance itself from Toyota.

Ami Gadhia, the Policy Counsel for Consumers Union, vowed to make changes in the way the respected organization handles safety matters in prepared testimony today in front of a hearing by the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection.

Consumer Reports’ self-proclaimed role is to evaluate product performance and provide detailed ratings and reliability information to help car buyers choose the best vehicle.

However, the organization has a history of favoring Toyota, so much so that until recently it automatically gave all new Toyota products recommended buy ratings before reliability data were available – something it did not do with vehicles from other makers.

The non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports said it did not identify sudden acceleration issues in Toyotas or in any other vehicles because it did not encounter any issues with either floor-mat entrapment or a sticking accelerator pedal in any of the vehicles CU tested.

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“These episodes are too rare to show up in our standard testing. And they did not surface as an issue in our annual reliability survey. Had we noticed a problem in our testing, we would have contacted the company immediately, as we did when we experienced a perceived brake failure in our Ford Fusion Hybrid,” said Gadhia.   (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…)