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Ford Lawsuit Claims “Design Defect” Can Cause Unintended Acceleration

Detroit maker says federal investigators already cleared it.

by on Mar.29, 2013

A new federal lawsuit claims scores of Ford products, like the Taurus, suffer from a "defect' that makes the vehicle suddenly accelerate.

A new lawsuit claims that nearly a decade’s worth of vehicles produced by the Ford Motor Co. suffer from a “design defect” that can make them susceptible to suddenly and unexpectedly begin racing out of control.

The lawsuit, filed in West Virginia federal court on behalf of 20 different owners in 14 states, is seeking class-action status that could, if approved, come to involve the owners of millions of Ford vehicles produced between 2002 and 2010.

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“For too long, Ford has put its own financial interests ahead of its consumers’ safety,” said lead attorney Adam Levitt. “We hope this lawsuit sheds light on this important situation and requires Ford to correct its ways, compensate its customers and put them first.”

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Approval of Toyota Settlement Doesn’t End Unintended Acceleration Nightmare

Maker still faces potential billions in claims for injuries, deaths.

by on Dec.31, 2012

Will Toyota settle the remaining unintended acceleration cases to keep pictures like this crash scene out of the headlines?

A federal judge in suburban Los Angeles has given his preliminary approval to a settlement estimated to be worth as much as $1.4 billion in a collection of cases involving the unintended acceleration of Toyota Motor Co. products – but the deal only resolves what one observer described as the “easy” part of the litigation facing the Japanese giant.

If given the court’s final okay sometime next year, the agreement would resolve claims that the unintended acceleration problems led to a sharp decline in the value of Toyota vehicles.

But it does not resolve scores of additional claims filed by those who allege they were injured during “runaway car” crashes or on behalf of others who were killed.

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The new Toyota settlement resolves “an economic value lawsuit,” stresses Joe Phillippi, of AutoTrends Consulting.  And while that may involve the majority of the lawsuits Toyota was facing, he notes it’s “the highly emotional lawsuits yet to be heard.  And when you start parading in front of a jury grizzly images of people injured or killed that makes for great headlines.”

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Toyota Reaches $1 Bil Deal in Runaway Cars Case

Deal closes 100s of cases -- but 100s more still unresolved.

by on Dec.27, 2012

Lexus agreed to a record fine this month for delaying the recall of the RX crossover due to unintended acceleration issues.

Toyota Motor Co. has reached a more than $1 billion settlement intended to put an end to 100s of lawsuits stemming from the maker’s problems with unintended acceleration. But Toyota still faces a separate series of lawsuits from those who claim to have been injured by runaway vehicles.

The proposed settlement specifically covers lawsuits filed by owners who alleged that the value of their cars, trucks and crossovers had plummeted substantially as a result of the crisis triggered by a series of revelations and recalls that eventually involved more than 14 million Toyota products worldwide.

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The maker said it also will launch an extended warranty program covering 16 million current owners while also installing additional safety technology on 3.2 million of its vehicles. But in light of other recent recalls that have involved millions more Toyota products it remains unclear if the settlement will be enough to repair the Japanese giant’s once shining image.

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New Nissan Safety System Could Reduce Unintended Acceleration Crashes

System aims to prevent inadvertent pedal misapplication.

by on Oct.16, 2012

Nissan's system can help prevent pedal misapplication in a parking lot by spotting potential obstacles.

There’ve been a lot of headlines written about so-called “Unintended Acceleration” in recent years. And there’s little doubt that there have been some legitimate problems leading to runaway cars, including the jammed carpets and sticky throttles that led Toyota to recall millions of vehicles since 2009.

But one thing that safety investigators have also seen, over and over, is the likelihood that a significant number of supposed runaway car incidents are actually caused by driver error, most often when a motorist reaches for the brake but punches the throttle, instead.

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A new system being introduced by Nissan could help reduce the likelihood of such situations – especially in parking lots or garages where there is little time to recover from a pedal misapplication.

The technology goes by the ungainly Emergency Assist for Pedal Misapplication with Carpark Detection Function, a name that doesn’t even lend itself to an elegant acronym – unless Nissan has found one in Japanese.  But the name doesn’t matter if the new system works.

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NHTSA Calls for Brake-Throttle Override Systems

Technology could avert many unintended acceleration crashes.

by on Apr.13, 2012

NHTSA plans to require a brake-throttle override system.

Federal safety regulators want to enact new rules requiring manufacturers to install brake-throttle override systems designed to cut power to the engine if a motorist inadvertently hits both pedals at the same time.

The proposed update by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – which still require a 60-day period for comment – was triggered by an increasing body of research revealing that driver error, rather than automotive defects, are responsible for a large share of so-called unintended acceleration crashes.

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One of the most notorious incidents occurred in 2003 when an 86-year old driver misapplied the pedals and plowed through an open market in San Diego, killing 10 and injuring 63 others. More recently, Toyota recalled millions of vehicles in 2009 and 2010 due to unintended acceleration issues. Some were linked to a pair of potential defects.  But a pair of recent studies blamed driver error involving misuse of pedals for a large number of incidents involving the Japanese maker’s products.

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Unintended Acceleration Study Blames Older Women Drivers

Problem also common among those under 20.

by on Apr.13, 2012

Misuse of the brake and gas pedals has been linked to an epidemic of accidents.

When the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year ruled out the likelihood of unknown electronic gremlins causing so-called unintended acceleration problems with Toyota vehicles researchers instead suggested that driver error was largely to blame.

A new study echoes the likelihood that drivers may hit the throttle when intending to reach for the brake – while also say the majority of such accidents involve older women and occur primarily in parking lots.  But the report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also points the finger at drivers under 20.

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Particularly striking is the finding that nearly two-thirds of the drivers involved in accidents involving the misuse of the gas pedal are female. In all motor vehicles crashes, nearly two in three drivers are male, NHTSA reports.

“The most consistent finding across data sources was the striking overrepresentation of females in pedal misapplication crashes, relative to their involvement in all types of crashes,” the study’s authors declared in an executive summary.  “Females were the drivers in nearly two-thirds of the pedal misapplication crashes” included in the study.

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Honda Announces Fifth Recall of 2012

Faulty fuel tanks trigger latest service action.

by on Feb.23, 2012

The 2012 Honda Pilot and Acura MDX are covered by the maker's latest recall.

Honda has announced the recall of nearly 9,000 late-model crossover-utility vehicles due to potentially faulty fuel tanks that pose the risk of a spill or fire.

The action comes as the maker struggles to resolve quality-related issues that resulted in Honda recalling 3.8-million vehicles in 2011, more than any other automaker operating in the U.S. market.  (For more on that story, Click Here.) 

The maker says it will begin notifying customers next month to bring the covered vehicles in for inspection and, if necessary, free repairs.  The recall affects 8,700 Honda Pilot and Acura MDX models sold during the 2012 model-year.

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The number of vehicles impacted is relatively small – especially when compared to the 45,800 Odyssey minivans involved in another Honda service campaign this month and the 273,000 Honda and Acura products recalled last December due to potentially defective side airbags.  But industry analysts are wondering whether the ongoing series of problems could create an image issue for a brand long known for quality and reliability – just as Honda had hoped to recover from the production shortages caused by Japan’s March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

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Study Points Finger at Driver Error for Toyota’s Unintended Acceleration Problems

But 2-year review also suggests electronic issues may have played role.

by on Jan.18, 2012

Toyota's unintended acceleration problems likely weren't the result of electronic gremlins, says a new study.

A two-year study looking for possible causes behind Toyota’s rash of unintended acceleration issues has put primary blame on driver error – but the review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also cautioned that some problems may have been caused by inadvertent interactions involving vehicle electronics – an issue frequently cited by the automaker’s critics.

Though there was no hard evidence of specific electronic defects, the 139-page report cautioned that “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”  Warning electronic faults may be “untraceable,” it calls for stricter government involvement in setting standards for the use of electronic control vehicle systems.

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The new report completes a series of studies set in motion by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which, in March 2010, asked both the NAS’s National Research Council, as well as NASA, to see why there were so many complaints about what the media was referring to as “runaway Toyotas.”

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Toyota Narrowly Misses Third Year Atop Recall List

Overall, recalls down for 2011.

by on Dec.30, 2011

Toyota recalled 200,000 Sienna minivans in 2011, the third year in a row in which it topped the U.S. recall list, with 3.5 million of its vehicles impacted overall.

Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to reflect a last-minute Honda action and final federal recall numbers for 2011.

It isn’t always good to be number one, as Toyota clearly understands.  While it slipped from first to third in the global automotive sales sweepstakes when the books are closed on 2011 the Japanese giant might be more pleased that it narrowly missed having the most recalls of any automaker in the U.S. for the third year in a row.

That dubious distinction now goes to Honda, which expanded its ongoing series of airbag defect-related actions to end the year having recalled 3.8 million vehicles.  Honda closed 2011 with 15 separate campaigns compared to Toyota’s still sizable 13.

Despite the maker’s claim that it has put its quality and safety problems behind it, Toyota — and its Scion and Lexus brands — still were forced to recall 3.5 million vehicles this past year, significantly more than the third-highest manufacturer on the government’s list.  And that doesn’t include a sizable number of vehicles for which the maker issued technical service bulletins, which encouraged dealers to fix nagging problems that didn’t wind up getting tallied on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s formal recall chart.

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In all, automakers recalled 15.5 million light vehicles in 2011, according to an analysis by WardsAuto, a sharp decline from the 20 million year before when the industry – largely due to Toyota — saw callbacks jump to 17.2 million cars, trucks and crossovers.  Toyota alone had 7 million vehicles involved in its 2010 campaigns. The worst year for the auto industry was 2000 when 24.3 million vehicles were involved in safety-related recalls.

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Toyota Wins Key Court Case

Maker still faces serious legal battles.

by on Apr.04, 2011

Toyota has emerged victorious from a key court battle in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of New York, which may be an early indicator of the strength of legal theories behind current unintended acceleration claims against the company.

After deliberating for approximately 45 minutes, a jury delivered a verdict in favor of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. in an alleged unintended acceleration case brought by Dr. Amir Sitafalwalla, who claimed that an unsecured driver’s side floor mat was the primary cause of the crash of his Scion vehicle in August 2005.

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During the course of the week-long trial, Dr. Sitafalwalla’s primary expert, Dr. Anthony Storace, withdrew his assertion that the Electronic Throttle Control System in the Scion could also have been a cause of the accident based on his acknowledgment that he had no basis to support that claim.

Instead, the jury sided with Toyota’s lawyer’s blaming the accident on driver error, which is the most often reason cited by manufacturers for unintended acceleration incidents.

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