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Jake AdelsteinI'm biased because I know David and have worked with him on articles before but this is a damn fine piece. Toyota's callousness towards "unimportant" people says quite a deal about the company and their reputation for hiring unscrupulous labor contractors and harshly treating their own workers makes me reluctant to even buy their products. I wonder if Toyota will repeat mistakes like this in the future or somewhere in the company a lesson was learned.
Parris BoydExcellent article - Betsy Benjaminson is one brave lady. I learned my lesson about Toyota when the engine disintegrated in my MR2 Spyder. Lost $8,500 and then discovered that my case was one of many, revolving around a defect which causes pre-cats to decompose, tear up the engine, and ruin the exhaust system. The issue - dating back to 2000 and continuing to this day - has been addressed online (and to Toyota) by countless owners and various MR2 clubs such as Spyderchat.com (do a Google search) but Toyota continues to "stonewall," as Ms. Benjaminson so aptly calls it. Used MR2 Spyders (Toyota stopped US production after 2005) - especially the 2000 through 2002 models - pose a tremendous financial risk to purchasers, many of whom are unaware of the defect. Hapless owners who learn about the issue before disaster strikes are faced with either removing the pre-cats (illegal for ordinary driving) or constantly worrying about the potential loss of the better part of $10,000. Informed consumers are justifiably wary of buying Spyders - especially those early models - including cars that feature low mileage. I've been blogging about the Recall King for quite some time. Search "Beware of Toyota. Their next victim may be YOU..."
martin purdyNowhere have I seen any recommendation to knock the gear selector into neutral if there's a sudden speed surge. The engine may roar but at least you'll slow down.
mike smitkaConfusion in the face of defect complaints is normal – as the two known causes show (one due to floormats, something engineers in Japan didn't contemplate, and the other due to a different batch of plastic used in the US than when parts were tested), they can be extremely hard to diagnose. Futhermore, driver error lies behind almost all unintended acceleration. Porsche faced similar accusations; when they moved the brake and gas pedals slightly further apart, cases vanished. So their cases were all driver error, but an error the likelihood of which could be lessened. So until at least one reproducible cause is located, well, all engineers can do is stonewall. There's no conspiracy. And the most recent court case in the US did not find Toyota at fault, and since lots of dollars for lawyers are at stake, they have an extremely strong incentive to make the case if the evidence can be construed that way. That does not mean Toyota had its act together. Initial reports on warranty issues and safety go through local dealers; others through insurance companies. In the US Toyota in fact has 3 separate sales organizations (going back to their initial entry, two regions of the US, in the Southwest and the Southeast, are controlled by the initial American importers). Hence Toyota USA was but one reporting channel, and information could only be consolidated at HQ in Japan, where sales and engineering are separated, accentuating problems. Did Toyota look clumsy? They were clumsy. They've since moved the interface for Southeast and Southwest from Japan to the US. Curiously, McNeill does not mention the "early retirement" of Toyota's top 4 execs that coincided with the promotion of Akio Toyoda. The company after all was losing money, had high recall rates, model proliferation was out of control with boring cars that cannibalized sales from one another, partly as a consequence the average age of purchasers was rising, and they were doing poorly in China. This was widely reported in the Japanese press, eg a long article in Bungei Shunju in March 2009. (I don't look at Shukan Shincho for carefully researched business coverage...) Note too that recalls are common for everyone, given increasing vehicle complexity – but unlike Toyota other car companies did not make "quality" as central to their marketing (and of late have had fewer total recalls, but that's likely not statistically significant). Finally, do Toyota engineers work hard? Yes, but I'm around US engineers (Ford, Chrysler, Honda, suppliers) and as the launch date approaches working 16 hours 7 days a week would not raise eyebrows. And are there any promotion-track Japanese in business or bureaucracy who work 40 hour weeks? Alan Ohnsman at Bloomberg has good English-language coverage, Automotive News as well, and I have blogged about Toyota-related issues at http://autosandeconomics.blogspot.com (and post regularly to the NBR Japan Forum email discussion list).
David McNeillDear Mike (if I may) Many thanks for the thoughtful reply to our piece on Toyota. I’m disappointed to hear the piece seemed conspiratorial - that wasn't our intention at all. We were simply suggesting that Toyota let quality control slip in its drive to success, particularly in the complex area of electronics - and that it hasn't been forthcoming about the depth of the problem. I'm not an engineer, but I was struck by the forcefulness of the whistleblower's account - her honesty, thoroughness and lack of any obvious agenda other than getting to the bottom of what is going on and saving lives. I've asked Sean Kane to respond to your criticisms. He says there is plenty of evidence in which electronics clearly played a role but were marginalized. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/25/business/lawsuit-seeks-records-from-us-investigation-of-toyota-acceleration.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 . Also: http://www.safetyresearch.net/2013/01/03/fixated-on-floor-mats/ "With an absence of regulations mandating that critical electronic controls meet functional safety guidelines, the lack of electronics expertise within the regulatory agency, and defects that don’t leave ‘forensic evidence’ it’s easy to understand why we are where we are. Add to this industry pressure pushing autonomous cars and the importance of consumer faith in the electronics. One need look no further than the plethora of manufacturer recalls to see how many of the fixes are being handled with software patches to know that we have transitioned from a mechanical age to an electronic age in motor vehicles.” Of course vehicle recalls are common – as you know, the largest recalls in history affected Ford. I am struck however by the growing number of problems affecting Toyota cars of late: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/11/us-autos-recall-global-idUSBRE93A08I20130411. I wasn’t of course suggesting that the Japanese media was ignoring Toyota’s problems, just that it was very slow to recognize the scale of the US problem (as it was with the 2011 Olympus scandal) and that some elements responded with kneejerk nationalism. Given the number of looming court cases, we’ll find out soon enough I guess if this is all about lawyers making hay or something more substantial.
Charlene BlakeToyota and Lexus are #1 in cases of sudden unintended acceleration and FORD is #2. The current unintended acceleration plaguing newer vehicles is the electronically-induced type. The engine throttle control systems depend on computer software to command them. Sometimes glitches occur...like in some of your other electronic devices...which can cause the command to be different than what you desire. The evidence of the glitch is often undetectable after the vehicle is restarted. Unfortunately, the EDR (black box) is not always accurate as shown by expert Dr. Antony Anderson in his analysis of a 2012 Toyota Highlander. The EDR results indicated the driver was not braking when she was doing so. The EDR results are inconsistent. The key to avoiding a horrific crash during a SUA event is whether or not the vehicle has an effective fail-safe in the event a glitch occurs. If it does not, as in the case of the glitch-prone Toyota ETCS-i, then the vehicle may become a runaway with an ineffective means to stop it. Unfortunately, the safety standards aren't as strict in automobiles as they are in airplanes. Some manufacturers have more effective fail-safes than others. In the case of Toyota, an embedded software expert, Michael Barr (see Oklahoma Bookout vs. Toyota court case involving a 2005 Camry) found that an electronic glitch could induce a SUA event. Another expert, Dr. Henning Leidecker, found that a SUA event could also be triggered by "tin whisker" formation, particularly in 2002-2006 Toyota Camry vehicles. SUA events have been DEADLY for vehicle occupants as well as pedestrians and people in storefronts, buildings, and even homes. The numbers of such crashes are ever-increasing with the advent of the very complex ELECTRONIC throttle control systems. With the increase in such serious vehicle crashes, there is a concerted effort to show driver "pedal misapplication" or a "medical condition" or some other reason for the incident...anything other than a vehicle defect. Investigators aren't scrutinizing the buggy electronic throttle control software or other conditions that can elicit a terrifying sudden unintended acceleration incident. They usually just examine the *mechanical* causes which tend to be just red herrings in these cases. Investigators simply don't have the expertise to find such electronic glitches. In fact, the staff at the NHTSA, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, do not have this very specialized training! Think of it...the next step in electronically-controlled vehicles seems to be so-called "self-driving cars." Do YOU want to be in a such a vehicle when there is no evidence that strict safety standards, particularly in the throttle control system's software, have been adhered to? Will you just BLINDLY trust the automaker (criminally-investigated and nearly-prosecuted Toyota and soon-to-be GM and others?) to come through for you and your family's safety *on its own*? A recently published Huffington Post article by Jonathan Handel, How Do We Know Driverless Cars Are Safe? Google Says 'Trust Us' Posted: 07/01/2014 7:23 pm EDT Updated: 07/02/2014 1:48 pm EDT speaks to these very issues and poses tough questions about Google's "driverless" vehicles. Educate yourself carefully before you put your faith in automakers who have knowingly lied to their customers and the government for decades. Study the issue of vehicle electronic sudden unintended acceleration and ask WHY we aren't seeing it addressed publicly. WHY is blame placed on the driver with little more than speculation about which pedal was used or with little more than an assumption on medical condition. This is being done *even when the drivers steadfastly cite a VEHICLE PROBLEM as the cause of the crash. Absence of proof is not proof of absence of a serious ELECTRONIC computer glitch or other electronically-caused SUA. Charlene Blake
Patricia HerdmanThe Bookout v Toyota trial set a precedent and was able to prove that Toyota's software contained deadly flaws. You can read about it in WHEN CARS DECIDE TO KILL or go to Michael Barr's blog page or read about it on EE Times. If you are not a techie, then read the book as it's written for people who are not close to the software business. Patricia Herdman (author)