Is Toyota Telling the Truth About Sudden Acceleration?
Toyota says its problems with sudden unintended acceleration are in the rearview mirror, but newly disclosed documents raise questions that experts say have not yet been answered.
On the day he died, Mark Saylor was doing what he did for a living: driving on a California highway. Only he wasn’t driving his state-issued highway patrol car that day in late August 2009. Nor was he driving his own Lexus 250, which was at the dealer for servicing. He was driving a loaner with his wife, daughter, and brother-in-law on a leisurely family outing northeast of San Diego—until suddenly the car inexplicably took off. And no amount of braking could slow it down. As Saylor frantically tried to gain control, his brother-in-law called 911. “Our accelerator is stuck!” he told the dispatcher. “We’re going 120!”
It wasn’t just the speed that made this so dangerous. He read the sign they were passing: “End freeway one-half mile.” The car was barreling toward a T-shaped intersection. When it got there, it hit another car, flew through a fence, rolled into a field, and burst into flames. The last word before the screams was, “Pray!”
This wasn’t the first time that someone driving a Toyota had experienced sudden unintended acceleration. And it’s not a problem that’s unique to Toyota. But this was the event that Toyota cites as the beginning of its ongoing crisis.
How has it responded? The company has moved aggressively to contain the damage. Shifting floor mats were identified as a primary cause of many of these episodes. The company found that the loaner that the 45-year-old Mark Saylor was driving was equipped with mats that had never been intended for that car. Later, the company fingered accelerator pedals manufactured by a third party as prone to sticking. And Toyota says that many accidents are caused by drivers who inadvertently step on the gas instead of the brake.
As the crisis mounted, the company seemed overmatched. Critics charged that Toyota had sacrificed quality—its traditional strong suit—in a rush to rack up sales. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which had been criticized for years for its willingness to pin sudden acceleration on driver error, suddenly got tough. Toyota recalled more than 8 million cars and paid fines totaling more than $50 million. Litigation, which had slowed down before the Saylor crash, roared back to life, fueled by the recalls and new complaints. And the political pressure, coupled with a Democratic Congress, led to hearings in Washington that drew global attention. Toyota Motor Corporation president Akio Toyoda flew in from Japan to personally face the politicians’ angry questions.
But then everything seemed to calm down. As the company battled two large multidistrict litigation class actions (MDLs) in California, it quietly settled some of the smaller lawsuits, including the one brought by the Saylors’ survivors. The results of several investigations trickled in. Some had been commissioned by Toyota, and tended to include lots of technical data and to focus on floor mats and gas pedals. Then, in 2011, NHTSA concluded its own probe, which purported to be comprehensive, and Ray LaHood, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation (the parent agency of NHTSA), pronounced himself satisfied that Toyota’s cars were safe.
Not only had the public uproar subsided, sales rebounded. Following a slump that was probably attributable as much to the economic downturn as the bad publicity, last year the company regained its status as the world leader in car sales. For Toyota, the long ordeal seemed over.
But some leading automotive experts aren’t buying it. Last December, Toyota agreed to pay $1.3 billion to settle the MDL brought by car owners who claim that they suffered economic damages as a result of these events. Critics point out that it’s a pretty big number for plaintiffs who weren’t even directly affected. Beyond that, more than 200 personal injury cases remain to be resolved in the other MDL. The first bellwether trial had been scheduled for March, but it settled in January on confidential terms. At this writing, it’s unclear how the matter will play out; some lawyers expect another large settlement.
But putting aside the politics and litigation, these automotive experts simply don’t believe that the controversy has been put to rest. They acknowledge that some accidents are caused by drivers stomping on the gas instead of the brake, and some from defective floor mats and gas pedals. But the experts don’t believe that these explain the surge in complaints. Instead, they believe precisely what Toyota has for many years steadfastly denied: that the problem is rooted in electronics.
These experts have found some surprising support from insiders at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who were close to the investigation NASA conducted into Toyota’s acceleration problems a couple of years ago (and which LaHood cited when he discounted problems with its electronics). And now the experts say they’ve found additional corroboration in the communications of Toyota’s own people. Corporate Counsel obtained scores of internal documents written by employees who were struggling to understand why cars were suddenly accelerating, and where the company could have gone wrong. Among the writers were executives, managers, lawyers, public relations specialists, and engineers.
What this demonstrates, in the age of YouTube and Wikileaks, is how hard it is for multinationals and their in-house counsel to keep a lid on their companies’ internal data.
Many of the documents are marked “secret” and “confidential.” They were provided by Betsy Benjaminson, a translator who has worked for several agencies that translate Toyota documents from the Japanese (and who translated several of those quoted in this article). She says that these shops work for law firms hired to assist the company in litigation.
Benjaminson provided these and many more documents last year to Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, who then wrote a letter to NHTSA expressing his concern that questions about electronics have not been resolved. Corporate Counsel showed Toyota the complete documents from which quotes were excerpted for this article; read the company’s response here.
Benjaminson is revealing her identity for the first time here. She decided to go public because lives are at stake, she says. “Up to now,” she adds, “the corporate PR megaphone has completely drowned out the victims.”
Four experts agreed to review the documents independently and share their impressions. Keith Armstrong, Antony Anderson, and Brian Kirk are based in the United Kingdom; Neil Hannemann lives in California. All of them have decades of experience. The documents they reviewed date from as early as 2000; the most recent were written a few months after the congressional hearings in February and March 2010. They include many emails along with spreadsheets, flow charts, and diagrams.
On one important point the experts agree: There is no smoking gun that shows that Toyota identified and concealed an electronic defect that was responsible for crashes. But numerous documents, they say, undermine the corporation’s repeated attempts to reassure the public, as exemplified by the testimony of Jim Lentz, the CEO of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. In February 2010 Lentz told a House subcommittee: “We are confident that no problems exist in our electronic throttle systems in our vehicles.” He went on to testify, “We have done extensive testing on this system, and we have never found a malfunction that caused unintended acceleration.”
The documents seem to tell a different story. An email written by Hiroshi Hagiwara, a Toyota vice president in Washington, D.C., and sent to executives in Japan a month before the hearings hints at the turmoil beneath the surface. Hagiwara and Chris Tinto, a V.P. for technical and regulatory affairs and safety, had been talking about the U.S. investigation and an earlier one in Europe that also involved unintended acceleration (UA).
“Tinto is extremely pessimistic,” Hagiwara wrote, “and is saying (public hearings, someone will go to jail, I can’t completely take care of the pedal problem, etc.).” Tinto’s primary concerns (according to Hagiwara): “For NHTSA, we said that our investigations in Europe found that the pedal return is a little slow at a slightly open position, and that there were no accidents, but this is not true. Last year’s situation in Europe (many reports of sticking pedals and accidents, and a TI TS9-161 was filed on October 1, 2009) was not reported to NHTSA.” That failure, Tinto said, “may be a violation of the TREAD Act”—the federal law that requires car manufacturers that conduct recalls in foreign countries to report these to U.S. regulators.
Still speaking of Tinto, who worked for NHTSA in the 1990s before he was hired away by Toyota, Hagiwara continued: “He appears to question how Toyota has grasped and handled the overall UA problem (mat, accelerator pedal, ECU [electronic control unit], and electronic throttle systems, etc.).”
Hagiwara reminded the executives to be careful what they put in writing. He asked them to fax any investigative reports related to Europe. “It is OK to write various things to me in emails written in Japanese,” he advised, “but as much as possible only send materials that would not be controversial if disclosed (namely, things that have been reviewed), and it is best, I think, to discuss things orally.”
2011 Kia Sorento Unintended Acceleration Mishap Sends Woman To 120 MPH Across Iowa; Kia Investigates The “Isolated Incident”
2011 Kia Sorento Unintended Acceleration Mishap Sends Woman To 120 MPH Across Iowa; Kia Investigates The “Isolated Incident”
Unintended acceleration incidents are getting way out of hand. Sticking throttles came to the media forefront when Toyota suffered a very public mass recall from 2009-2010. In July, Ford Motor Co. heightened safety concerns when the automaker announced a throttle defect recall that affected 485,000 Ford Escape vehicles.
Last week, Lauri Ulvestad of Ames, Iowa, travelled along Missouri’s Interstate 35 in her 2011 Kia Sorento crossover when the vehicle suddenly suffered sudden unintended acceleration. According to an interview with KCCI-TV, 47-year-old Ulvestad barreled through traffic at speeds approaching 120 mph as she tried everything to stop the vehicle. Whether she turned off the keys, shifted the transmission out of drive, or slammed on the brakes, nothing managed to slow down her Kia crossover.
“I knew I was going to die,” Ulvestad told KCCI-TV. “I didn’t have any doubt about. I really thought I was going to die … and no matter what I did, I couldn’t slow it down.”
Ulvestad continued during her interview, “It was accelerating faster and faster. And I was looking at my GPS, and the number was going up and up and up. My foot isn’t even on the accelerator. The emergency brake is on all the way. I’m trying to move the brake, but it’s not working.”
Promptly dialing 911 during the ordeal, sheriff deputies and state troopers responded to Ulvestad’s distress immediately, providing traffic support so as to maximize fellow drivers’ awareness of the uncontrollable vehicle and to also allow authorities enough time to devise a strategy of safely disabling Ulvestad and the Kia.
After Lauri Ulvestad travelled a harrowing 59 miles in 35 minutes, KMBC.com reports that Ulvestad’s engine finally shuts down. Other media outlets reported that Ulvestad’s brakes regained function.
Whatever was the cause of the incident, Kia released a statement of Friday, “Our technicians have been unable to duplicate the issue and this appears to be an isolated incident. KMA will continue to investigate and analyze the facts of this situation and will work with the customer to resolve the matter in a timely manner.”
During a press conference, patrol spokesperson Sheldon Lyon gave praise to Ulvestad’s poise under pressure and for her ability to control the vehicle. “Not only to drive fast, but to go into the median, pull back up into the passing lane and hit that asphalt lip – and not overcorrect – it was really amazing to see her do that repeatedly.”
To understand just what Lyon is describing, make sure to check out the video footage of the incident, captured from a patrol vehicle dashcam, below.
On a final note, it’s certainly disturbing to see what seems like an increasing rate of unintended acceleration incidents that are no longer exclusive malfunctions to any particular automaker. As nearly all automobiles made today use electronic throttle controls, are more vehicles prone to dangerous accleration malfunctions?
Automakers Blame Drivers, But Settle Unintended Acceleration Cases
Two recent settlements in Unintended Acceleration (UA) cases remind us that while Toyota has sucked all the oxygen in the room over this defect, other automakers’ products equipped with electronic throttle controls are also getting their share of complaints, causing their share of injury and property damage and winding up in civil court.
In the last month, Thomas J. Murray & Associates, a law firm based in Sandusky, Ohio, reached confidential settlements against Kia Motors America and Subaru for seriously injured plaintiffs who claimed that their vehicles suffered an unintended acceleration event.
The first case involved Mary McDaniels, a visiting nurse from Norton, Ohio, who was returning to the office after seeing a patient, when the throttle of her 2006 KIA Amanti suddenly opened, as she crept along in stop-and-go traffic. With vehicles in front of her and oncoming traffic directly to her left, McDaniels chose to steer her rapidly accelerating sedan off the road.
Attorney Molly O’Neill says that McDaniels testified that her first reaction was: “What is happening to me?” When McDaniels looked down to affirm the position of her foot, she saw that it was on the brake. The Amanti hit a ditch, became airborne, skidded and collided with a tree. McDaniels’ leg was fractured in several places. She is unable to walk without assistance as a result of the Dec. 26, 2007 crash and had to give up her job.
McDaniels v Kia Motors America went to trial in October. Over two weeks of testimony, the Murrray legal team was able to show that Kia’s “American engineers were aware of unintended acceleration or surging events not ascribed to driver error,” O’Neill says. “They surmised it could be electronic.” McDaniels’ Kia was bought as “new” with a full warranty, even though it had 6,900 miles on it at the time of purchase and had been used by Kia as an in-house vehicle.
Kia attempted to blame driver error and brought in Carr Engineering the Houston, TX defense experts to argue that brakes could always overcome the throttle.
The civil case resulted in a mistrial, after two days of jury deliberations, with a lone juror unable to find that Kia was the proximate cause of the crash.
After an attempt at mediation failed, the plaintiffs were readying for a re-trial, when the case settled.
The second case, against Subaru America, settled well before trial, but not before the plaintiffs were able to conduct extensive discovery. On December 16, 2008, Cheryl Schmidt of Rockland County, New York, was at the wheel of a 2009 Subaru Forester, a dealership loaner vehicle, when it experienced an unintended acceleration. Schmidt was entering a parking area on the campus of the State University of New York, the vehicle accelerated and did not respond to braking. The Subaru crashed through the brick façade of the library. Although Schmidt was restrained, she broke her back in the crash. A sculptor and artist of large works, Schmidt has been unable to continue her career as an artist due to chronic pain.
Lawyers from the Murray firm found numerous UA complaints in NHTSA’s data. In addition, the lawyers located one consumer who complained to the dealership of two UA events in his 2009 Forester. Murray lawyers also found that Subaru’s ETC is functionally identical to the Toyota system.
Meanwhile, the Multi-District Litigation against Toyota for unintended acceleration claims grinds on. Last week, U.S. District Judge James Selna tentatively ruled that Toyota couldn’t compel named defendants in the class-action suit to arbitrate their cases. The first bellwether case trial is scheduled for later this year.
Article source: http://www.safetyresearch.net/2012/02/29/automakers-blame-drivers-but-settle-unintended-acceleration-cases/
‘Speeding’ driver rescued by Abu Dhabi police
Abu Dhabi: Police rescued an Emirati man from his four-wheel drive after he put it on cruise control at 160km an hour – and couldn’t turn it off.
In scenes which could have come straight out of the Hollywood movie, Speed, the motorist called 999 and said he had activated the cruise control mechanism but lost control on the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain highway, police said on Saturday.
The Emirati motorist told police that he lost control of the vehicle at the Al Khatem area.
The dramatic event was reminiscent of the blockbuster movie starring Keanu Reeves in which a bus is forced to travel at more than 50 miles per hour to avoid a bomb on the bus from exploding.
But, thankfully, the incident in Abu Dhabi did not reach the same dangerous climax.
After receiving the alert the police immediately dispatched three patrol vehicles and traced the speeding car, said Brigadier Engineer Hussain Ahmad Al Harithi, Director of Traffic and Patrols at Abu Dhabi Police.
One patrol vehicle drove ahead of the moving car to clear the road and advised the terrified motorist to follow the pilot vehicle.
Another two patrol vehicles were dispatched to drive alongside the perilously fast-moving car in case it careered off the road and crashed.
But the motorist could not operate the cruise control or apply the brakes and the car continued at top speeds, posing a real risk of causing several fatal crashes.
At one point, Abu Dhabi police were planning to lead the car to an uninhabited area to somehow reduce the speed and stop the vehicle.
Meanwhile, the police officials from the central operations department started giving safety instructions to the motorist over the phone.
They advised him to fasten the seatbelts and take similar precautions which he followed. Then they asked him to leave the accelerator and brakes untouched and apply the handbrake slowly.
After about 45 minutes, the car eventually slowed down and came to a complete stop at Ramah, near the Abu Dhabi — Al Ain highway, giving a sigh of relief to the motorist and dozens of police officers who were involved in the emergency rescue mission.
A mechanical engineer working with Abu Dhabi Police told Gulf News the trouble in the car was caused by a very rare manufacturing defect in its cruise control system.
If the cruise control system malfunctions, it will affect the brake system also, said the engineer who did not want to be named.
He said it was a new Japanese car.
The dusty weather during the previous week must have also contributed to the malfunctioning defect as the dust must have entered the system, he added.
The engineer said the motorist could sue the car manufacturer and the agency in the UAE for the damages, as the malfunctioning put him into a very dangerous situation.
The motorist has not yet taken any legal action, he said.
Check your vehicle
Police officials have called on all motorists to check the efficiency of the cruise control systems in their cars.
The warning comes because of the malfunctioning cruise control system which caused the trouble on the Abu Dhabi — Al Ain highway.
Brigadier Engineer Hussain Ahmad Al Harithi, Director of Traffic and Patrols at Abu Dhabi Police, advised motorists to immediately report such problems to their car dealers and to their service centres and have them fixed immediately.
The periodic maintenance works of the vehicles should be done without fail, the official added.
He also urged motorists to follow all traffic rules and safety instructions such as wearing a seat belt etc.
Motorists have also been urged to assess their speed properly while driving and leave enough space between vehicles.
If any technical malfunctioning or similar problems are found while driving motorists should immediately report it to police.
Out of control vehicle rolls on Highway 87 near Walmart entrance
According to Payson Police Chief, Don Engler, a woman driving North into Payson on Hwy 87 apparently experienced acceleration problems with her vehicle and was unable slow down or stop.
January 27, 2012, 3:00 p.m.
Updated: January 30, 2012, 9:11 a.m.
Update: On Saturday afternoon, doctors took Saige Bloom off life support. A vigil will be help Jan. 30 at the hill near Walmart starting at 6 p.m.
A teen driving north into Payson on Highway 87 Friday reportedly lost control of her vehicle after the accelerator got stuck, sending her flying through afternoon traffic, according to police.
The 17-year-old was unable to slow down or stop and police did what they could to clear a path for her as she struggled to regain control.
The teen had reportedly just purchased the white vehicle in the Valley and was driving home, her mother following in another vehicle.
As the teen approached Payson, the vehicle’s accelerator stuck. The teen called her mother and alerted her of the problem. The mother then called police and officers raced to clear intersections as the teen entered town.
Witnesses said the teen’s vehicle appeared to be going 55-60 mph, said Police Chief Don Engler. Several motorists reported that they were nearly struck by the vehicle as it sped down the Beeline.
One woman waiting to pull into Wendy’s said the papers sitting on her minivan’s dashboard flew up as the teen’s vehicle passed.
It is unclear if the teen tried to turn off the vehicle or put it into neutral. She was not wearing a seat belt when the vehicle clipped three other vehicles at the Beeline and Malibu Drive intersection. The teen’s car rolled several times, ejecting her.
Paramedics airlifted the driver to Phoenix in critical condition. There were no injuries to the occupants of the other vehicles, Engler said.
Police say it is amazing no one else was seriously injured.
“It is credit to her,” Engler said. “She was doing her best so that she wouldn’t strike other vehicles.”
Rumors that the accident culminated during a police chase are untrue.
How Ford Concealed Evidence of Electronically-Caused UA and What it Means Today
Last month, we reported a Florida circuit judge’s extraordinary decision to set aside a civil jury verdict in favor of Ford Motor Company, based on evidence and testimony that Ford had concealed an electronic cause of unintended acceleration from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – and its own expert witnesses. Judge William T. Swigert’s 51-page decision in Stimpson v Ford also outlines how decades of the automaker’s dissembling to limit its liability in civil lawsuits helped to mire the thinking about root causes of unintended acceleration in the limited context of mechanical agency, even as the electronic sophistication – and the potential for defects and unanticipated interactions between systems – in vehicles grew.
That a large corporation would conceal a deadly problem to protect its interests is hardly news – although the systemic and exacting strategies Ford employed in this case are notable. What makes this story important is how Ford also re-wrote the history on this issue and helped to shape the agency’s thinking about an ongoing problem for decades hence. We have only the public record regarding Toyota UA at our disposal – and precious little of that has actually been made public – so we can’t know how Toyota has assessed its own UA problem; if and what parallels in corporate misdirection might be drawn between Ford and Toyota. But one can see how Ford’s actions back in the 1980s still resonate with the agency today and how it has kept NHTSA from advancing its knowledge in electronic causes of UA that are not already detected by the vehicle diagnostics.
The Emergence of a Defect in the Age of Audi SUA
As recounted in the Judge Swigert’s order, the history of Ford and unintended acceleration goes back to 1973, when Ford’s cruise control was under development. Ford Engineer William Follmer “warned about the risk posed by electromagnetic interference, and cautioned that ‘to avoid disaster’ it was imperative to incorporate failsafe protection against EMI in the system’s design.” In 1976, two Ford engineers obtained a patent describing a design for the cruise control system’s printed circuit board to reduce the risk of a sudden acceleration posed by EMI.
But, in that same year, the company’s Electrical and Electronics Division determined that electromagnetic interference did not pose a significant risk and, therefore, “No special consideration was given to designing in electromagnetic compatibility.”
The switches in the cruise control system Ford developed and installed in millions of vehicles, such as Stimpsons’ Aerostar, were vulnerable at gear engagement to a current spike from electromagnetic interference that can bypass the control logic and induce the servo to pull the throttle wide open. The judge suggested that Ford had considered this possibility in 1979, putting $75 million in reserve to cover a recall for UA.
But the problem really blossomed in1984, after Ford introduced an advanced version of its engine electronics: EEC-IV. Where UA complaints before the introduction of this new technology were few, they began to increase rapidly once the 1984 models entered the fleet. During the 1980s, field investigations into UA complaints were documented in Service Investigation Reports, or SIRs, that were forwarded to Ford headquarters in Dearborn. This flood of complaints moved a Safety Office manager named Edward I. Richardson to begin informally reviewing the SIRs, in anticipation of a NHTSA investigation.
Richardson’s staff found a fact pattern in these UA complaints: “sudden accelerations from a standstill invariably began at gear engagement; drivers frequently reported that braking during the event was ineffective; field engineers often identified the cruise control electronics as the cause; field engineers frequently recommended replacing the cruise control servo; and there were no field reports identifying driver error as the cause of a sudden acceleration.”
On September 30, 1985, NHTSA opened the first of several investigations involving Ford. But the automaker kept its fact patterns to itself, and told the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) that its “vehicle systems are not defective.” NHTSA closed the investigation in August 1986, because no component-related root cause could be determined.
Having skirted one NHTSA investigation, a manager in Ford’s Customer Service Division Alan Updegrove, met with Ford counsel and the office that employs in-house litigation experts to express his dismay over the inflammatory opinions found in the SIRs. At that September 1986 meeting, he recommended a new format for investigating UA complaints and assembled a team to develop a new investigative approach.
What was the source of Updegrove unease? The legal decision focuses only on the events that concern Stimpson v. Ford. But one need only consider what was happening elsewhere in the industry regarding what was known back then as Sudden Unintended Acceleration to understand Ford’s desire for pre-emptory action – namely Audi.
By September 1986, Volkswagen was had already recalled Audi 5000 vehicles with automatic transmissions from the 1978-83 model years in the U.S. and Canada twice to resolve drivers’ complaints of SUA from a standstill, with ineffective braking. The recalls, to secure the floor mat and prevent pedal interference, however, did little to squelch the complaints. Volkswagen was seemingly trapped in a public relations nightmare featuring injuries, deaths and hundreds of crashes trumpeted to anyone who would listen, by a group of well-organized, articulate and highly vocal owners.
On March 19, 1986, the founder of what would become the Audi Victims Network teamed up with the New York Public Interest Research Group, NY Attorney General Robert Abrams and Center for Auto Safety to hold a press conference demanding that NHTSA investigate Audi SUA. Sales of the once-popular make were plummeting and despite Volkswagen’s launch of a service campaign to move the accelerator and brake pedals of the 1984-1986 Audi 5000′s, the agency decided to open a formal defect investigation into SUA involving 1978-86 Audi 5000s. In August 1986, after the agency launched its probe, Volkswagen announced that it would install a brake to shift interlock in the troubled vehicles. By November 1986, CBS would air its infamous segment on Audi SUA, which drove down vehicle sales even further.
The Ford Problem Grows
As Audi thrashed in the spotlight, Ford was receiving a steady stream of “malfunctioning cruise control servos under warranty for which no cause could be identified” complaints. In October 1986, Ford’s Electrical and Electronics Division documented for senior management “the reasons behind the rapid rise in undiagnosed failures in electronic components. The report identified six components, including the cruise control servo, whose undiagnosed failure rate had experienced the greatest increases. According to the report, prior to 1984, the cause of servo malfunctions had been identified 80 percent of the time, while after 1984 the rate plummeted to 20 percent. The EED report specifically identified ‘electromagnetic influences in the vehicle environment’ due to ‘the increasing complexity of electrical system’ as the root cause of this quantum increase in undiagnosed servo malfunctions; and since servos removed by field engineers investigating sudden accelerations were testing normal in Ford’s laboratories, it was clear that ‘electromagnetic influences’ were also the cause of the findings contained in SIRs the Safety Office was reviewing at the time.”
NHTSA wasn’t done, however. In December 1986, the agency notified Ford that it had identified 439 reports of “unexpected vehicle acceleration” that had resulted in “193 accidents, 106 injuries, and 5 fatalities … in 1983-1986 Ford vehicles” that could result in a safety recall. Ford would tell the agency in 1987, that they could find nothing amiss with any components.
Internally, however, Ford was working on solving the problem, as it tried to conceal it.
On January 12, 1987, Ford created a multi-disciplinary task force to study “how interactions between the engine and cruise control electronics were contributing to sudden accelerations.” The EED’s recommendation explicitly recognized that malfunctions involving the cruise control servo were caused by system level interactions, and not by detectable failures in individual components of the interacting systems.”
In March 1987, Ford began working on the flip side of the coin. The company assembled about 200 field engineers in Dearborn to receive new marching orders that would help Ford obscure the data. The old SIR format was discontinued and Updegrove’s new approach to UA investigations would take its place. All sudden acceleration related-SIRs would now be purged in the year they were generated. (Federal law requires that safety-related records have a five year retention period.)
Ford presented a very different face to NHTSA. As the NHTSA defect investigation wound on, Ford scratched up only 38 SIR reports – with only 21 relating to UA from a standstill. (In his decision, Judge Swigert agreed with the plaintiffs that the paucity of SIRs had more to do with the new retention policy than a lack of complaints.) In March 1987, Ford told the agency that an electronically-rooted SUA “would be expected to reveal physical evidence of causal origin,” even though the SIRs and the EED report said otherwise.
As it tried to hold off the agency, Ford continued to work on solving the problem. A February 1988 memo from Stephen Hahn, a senior electrical engineer and leader of Ford’s SUA task force lent support to the conclusions of previous internal studies showing the problem was rooted in the system-level interactions between the cruise control and the engine. He observed that “only when the vehicle speed control function is integrated into the EEC-IV system does the EEC system have the potential to produce a wide open throttle acceleration.” That fall, Ford engineers assembled the factors that could cause an unintended acceleration into a fish-bone schematic known as an Ishikawa diagram, “which identified electromagnetic interference on the output side of the cruise control electronics as a potential cause.”
Alan Updegrove’s investigation into sudden acceleration claims produced a detailed database of incidents, analyzed by a team that included representatives from the Powertrain Electronics Unit, the Automotive Safety Office, and the Customer Service Division. Their task was to “guide the investigation into key areas that included the engine control electronics, underhood linkages, wiring and speed control … and an extensive interview with the operator of the vehicle and any available witnesses to the event.”
One of the engineers on Updegrove’s team, James Auiler, testified that the “Updegrove database was a special study to get premium factual information so that we could do engineering analysis and due diligence and understand what was really going on.”
The foundation of the database was a questionnaire to be used by field investigators “to record facts and information indicating the likely cause of the occurrence.” The questionnaire was quite detailed, including information about driver behavior, direct observations from witnesses to the event, braking effectiveness; physical evidence, such as tire marks, and how the event terminated. The results were divided into six possible categories relating to causation and three categories identifying the engine behavior during the event. Updegrove’s team gathered a total of 1,900 cases in which the UA occurred upon gear engagement. The summaries of those cases determined that less than one percent were classified as pedal misapplication, and for 99 percent “the evidence collected logically supported the driver’ claim of an uncontrolled acceleration, but no physical explanation for the event was found during the vehicle inspection.”
Yet, in a December 1989 response to NHTSA’s sticking throttle investigation of Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar vehicles, Ford told the agency that “the Updegrove results supported the agency’s conclusion that driver error was the “most plausible cause” of sudden accelerations.”
Managing the Experts
Swigert ruled that keeping this information in-house required Ford to misdirect its own go-to electronics litigation expert, Victor Declercq, manager of the Ford Electromagnetic Compatibility Laboratory. DeClerq has been frequently dispatched to testify for Ford that there is “no evidence that Ford’s electronics are susceptible to an EMI-induced sudden acceleration.” But Judge Swigert added up a number of his pre- and post-trial assertions and determined that Declerq was not privy to any of the internal studies and memos outlining how electronic malfunctions in the cruise control could result in a wide-open throttle.
- Declerq admitted in post-trial testimony that a lawyer from the automaker’s Office of General Counsel denied that there was any engineering summary of the Updegrove results.
- Declerq acknowledged that “no Ford model with the cruise control electronics at issue here had been tested following a sudden acceleration; and that no testing replicating EMI on the output side of the cruise control had been performed.”
- In a 1999 in-house video, DeClerq could be seen using a table-top model of Ford’s cruise control system to demonstrate that five failures would have to occur simultaneously before a UA was possible.
- Declercq acknowledged “that he has frequently cited [the 1989 NHTSA study, An Examination of Sudden Acceleration,] to juries as support for his opinion that multiple, simultaneous, and detectable failures are prerequisites for a sudden acceleration.” As the following section details, Ford misdirected the agency about the causes of UA as NHTSA gathered string for this study.
Tarnishing The Silver Book
One of the most riveting portions of Judge Swigert’s decision was his take down of An Examination of Sudden Acceleration, the 1989 study known within NHTSA as The Silver Book, in reference to the color of its cover.
In the wake of the Audi case, NHTSA commissioned the Transportation System Center to conduct an independent, industry-wide study of sudden unintended acceleration. It announced its intention in October 1987, just before Ford’s Electronics Reliability Study Team pegged EMI and the lack of uniform procedures for circuit analysis as contributory causes to the electronic problems plaguing Ford vehicles. As part of the information-gathering process, NHTSA had asked manufacturers to provide to the agency “all reports, studies, or investigations that might assist the TSC study.” Ford did not produce any of its internal studies showing the effect of EMI on its cruise control servo, it did not disclose the Ishikawa analysis or the Updegrove study. The judge determined that Ford’s fraud in unintended acceleration had extended to misleading NHTSA in the preparation of this study.
When An Examination of Sudden Acceleration was finally published in January 1989, the researchers concluded, based – in part – on representations from manufacturers, like Ford, that “EMI was not a contributing factor to sudden accelerations; that at least two simultaneous and detectable faults would have to occur for the cruise control electronics to cause a sudden acceleration; and that, in the absence of such detectable faults, the most ‘plausible explanation was driver pedal error.’”
Ford knew from its own investigations that this was not true. But in October 1989, when NHTSA opened Preliminary Evaluation 90-001, asking Ford for studies or investigations that could explain a “failure of the throttle control system to properly control vehicle speed in 1988-1989 model year Thunderbird/Cougar models,” Ford cited The Silver Book to buttress its argument that, like NHTSA, it has been diligently searching for causes, but can’t find anything beyond driver error:
“Ford has received and investigated reports alleging sudden acceleration incidents, both with and without explicit allegations of brake failure, on virtually all vehicles it produces including the vehicles which are the subject of this inquiry. Ford’s investigations, like those of NHTSA and others encompassed numerous components, systems, complex interrelationships, and human factors. The typical scope of such analysis is manifested by
the diverse studies documented within the Transportation System Center CTSC) report; similar efforts continue at Ford, as exemplified by a schematic diagram, provided as Attachment 1, which was formulated by Ford engineering personnel to structure sudden acceleration-type incident analysis.”
In view of Ford’s decision to keep its knowledge about the causes of UA to itself, Judge Swigert was particularly critical of the underlying assumptions on which An Examination of Sudden Acceleration was based. He pointed to depositions of Richard Schmidt, a human factors expert, former Exponent scientist and co-author of driver error studies on which NHTSA relied to deny a 2000 petition to re-open an investigation into the phenomenon of UA, in which Schmidt was unable to explain the empirical starting point that led to the conclusion that most UA events are caused by driver error. Swigert first observed that Schmidt’s theory about the events that create a pedal-misapplication UA-crash is at odds with his working definition of UA.
Schmidt defined UA as: “A full, uncommanded full throttle situation from a stop or near stop after shifting from park or a drive gear with a perceived brake failure.” He further testified that in his view, drivers misposition their feet, mistakenly depress the accelerator instead of the brake, simultaneously as they shift into gear. But Schmidt conceded that he had not done any baseline research to determine what drivers typically do during vehicle start up – when and where they place their feet. And Schmidt said that in his view, the move to a full-throttle event is gradual, rather than immediate. He believed the UA crash occurred when drivers lightly depress the accelerator pedal, thinking it’s the brake. When the car starts to move upon gear engagement, the driver presses a little harder still under the assumption that his foot is on the brake. As the vehicle continues to move, the driver gradually applies more pressure to the brake, until the vehicle movement is arrested by a crash.
“Since it is undisputed that in a classic sudden acceleration the throttle rapidly goes to wide open at gear engagement, Schmidt’s hypothesis is obviously inconsistent with this generally accepted description of a sudden acceleration. The core question, however, is whether there is a scientific or empirical basis for Schmidt’s hypothesis that pedal errors cause most sudden accelerations,” Swigert wrote in his decision.
Then, the judge attacked Schmidt’s scientific rigor. In examining Schmidt’s deposition testimony, Swigert found:
“It is apparent that Schmidt assumed that if no tangible or detectable evidence of a malfunction is found in the vehicle, the cause must be the driver. However, when Schmidt was pressed to explain the basis for this assumption, he conceded that: (1) he was unaware of any research showing that drivers occasionally misposition their foot on the accelerator pedal at start up; (2) he never consulted with an electrical engineer regarding his assumption that two detectable faults at least that ‘fix themselves’ were necessary for a sudden acceleration; ‘(3) that he had heard about Ford’s Updegrove investigation, but knew nothing about the results; (4) he has done no research regarding brake pedal force needed to stop an open throttle acceleration;’ and (5) when confronted with the fact that many sudden accelerations had been terminated by the driver disengaging the engine before a crash occurred, he said he would be ‘surprised’ if that were the case.”
This decision tells a story that resonates beyond whatever Ford shoveled at NHTSA in the 1980s. In all that compost, Ford’s decision to withhold what it knew about the connection between EMI, its cruise control servo and unintended acceleration, were the seeds of thought that have taken root, and flourished at the agency. These opinions continue to be expressed 30 years later. Even as late as 2003, the agency was using An Examination of Sudden Acceleration, as a reason to dismiss complaints of UA in Toyota vehicles. In a Federal Register notice denying a defect petition from a Lexus owner who experienced three UAs in his vehicle, NHTSA cited its 1989 study as part of the supporting evidence. The 1999 Lexus at issue, however, was equipped with a new electronic throttle control system; the Silver Book examined mechanical throttle control systems.
Take for example, a particularly striking e-mail from Toyota manager Chris Tinto recounting a June 2004 meeting with NHTSA ODI investigator Robert Young on the subject of unintended acceleration in Toyotas:
“Mr. Young was shown all of the failure modes of the ETC [Electronic Throttle Control] system, and was clear in expressing that none of the modes felt ‘unsafe’ to him, and he felt that the modes were unrelated to sudden acceleration. Mr. Young also drove the vehicle in such a way that he was able to apply both the accelerator and the brake pedal at the same time. He referred to this as “Dual Pedal Application.” He expressed his opinion that the complaints that the agency has received were most likely dual pedal application (i.e. not vehicle malfunction related). He also stated that it was very difficult to achieve this dual pedal application condition because the Camry has utilizes a wide (i.e. good) spacing between the accelerator pedal and the brake pedal.”
If Tinto’s retelling is accurate, this belief in driver error is so unshakeable that one of the agency’s most experienced investigative experts was ready to conclude that the complaints were due to dual pedal application even though the data – which showed a 400 percent increase in UA Camry complaints after Toyota went to electronic throttle controls – and his own direct observation – that the pedals had good spacing and that it was hard to actually hit both pedals at once – told him the exact opposite.
(Young was once similarly confident that a high-profile 1998 fatal crash involving a Ford police van in Minneapolis was a case of driver error, until he learned months later that an aftermarket device often used by police to keep brake lights flashing disabled the shift lock. This allowed the vehicles to surge forward upon gear engagement without touching the pedal. The story of this crash and the agency’s subsequent findings are detailed in a Wall Street Journal article from November 1, 1999: “A Simple Case of Sudden Acceleration – Or So It Seemed at First to Bob Young.”)
This assumption in the primacy of mechanical causes in Toyota UA incidents snakes it way through several subsequent NHTSA investigations – regardless of the absence of evidence or contradictory evidence. It’s woven into a conversation with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, trying to make sense of the January 2004 deaths of George and Maureen Yago in their 2002 Camry XLE.
Two witnesses following the Yagos into a casino parking garage said that they saw the vehicle pull slowly into a space and come to a stop (observing that the Camry’s brake lights were lit), when the vehicle suddenly took off, and shot off the fourth floor.
NHTSA never investigated this death. Nonetheless, ODI investigators speculated about causes with the police. According to the police report, ODI investigator Steve Chan carefully explained that “in the past two years there have been numerous complaints about a problem with the 2002 and 2003 model year Toyota Camrys. The complaint stems from a sudden acceleration problem, supposedly, operators of this type of vehicle have been slowing down or stopping, and suddenly, the car accelerates. In the previous complaints, some of the incidents had resulted in a collision, this was the first death. Chan explained how in 2002, Toyota went to a new type of accelerator. In the previous years, a gas pedal was connected to the engine via some type of cable or linkage. In 2002, the gas pedal is now connected to some type of a pedal position sensor, this sensor is in turn connected to wires, these wires connect to the cars computer, there are more wires which connect to some type of a servo or actuator. This connects to the engine to control the engine RPMs. After this change is when these type of incidents started to occur.”
But, then the conversation turns to pedal misapplication, and that is where it is left:
“Although, it does need to be brought up, there may have been other changes which coincided with this modification, changes such as pedal or seating position changes. We spoke about misapplication, being a possible cause of these types of collisions, misapplication is where a person goes to step on the brake, but is actually pushing on the gas. As the vehicle accelerates forward, the driver panics, and pushes down harder because the vehicle is not stopping, the vehicle only accelerates more, so until the driver realizes what is going on and lifts off the gas, or what happens more often is, they hit something. Although I do not have any current statistics, the type of case where a collision results predominantly occurs with the elderly. Plus their reaction times are slower and by the time they realize what is occurring a collision has occurred. [Chan] did not have any information on the ages of the drivers involved in their complaints, during my inspection of the gas pedal, locations of this vehicle, it seemed to me the pedals were extremely close. Furthermore, they appeared to be at the same height. It seemed to me a person could easily push on both pedals at the same time, and not know it. This would lead to a driver accelerating while braking.”
It shows up in the agency’s decision to deny a 2008 petition from William Kronholm, a Tacoma owner who experienced two brief UAs in his 2007 truck. Kronholm said that NHTSA investigators pushed pedal misapplication as a cause, because he was wearing ski boots at the time. An attempt to hit both pedals at once showed Kronholm, just as it showed Bob Young four years earlier, that he would have to move his foot into an unnatural position. For Kronholm, this was evidence that dual pedal application was not a cause. Investigators, however, took pains to mention dual pedal application in their denial of Kronholm’s petition.
It culminated in the denial of an April 2009 petition from, Jeffrey Pepski, a Lexus ES 350 owner from Minnesota. Pepski asked the agency to re-open its probe of UA in Lexus vehicles equipped with electronic throttle control, and criticized it for focusing narrowly on all-weather floor mat interference. Pepski’s incident occurred at high speed in a vehicle that was only outfitted with a standard carpet mat. Although he had tried pumping and pulling up the accelerator with his foot, he could not stop the acceleration. Pepski requested “an additional investigation of model years 2002-2003 Lexus ES 300 for those ‘longer duration incidents involving uncontrollable acceleration where brake pedal application allegedly had no effect.’”
On May 5, about a week before Toyota would send an official response to NHTSA, one of Toyota’s Washington staffers, Chris Santucci sent an investigation status report to colleague According to Santucci, NHTSA was looking for help in crafting a denial:
“For background, NHTSA did inspect the petitioner’s vehicle. While they did not see clearly the witness marks of the carpeted floor mat on the carpet in the forward, unhooked position, they do suspect that the floor mat was responsible for the petitioner’s issue.”
“I have discussed our rebuttal with them, and they are welcoming of such a letter, They are struggling with sending an IR letter, because they shouldn’t ask us about floormat issues because the petitioner contends that NHTSA did not investigate throttle issues other than floor mat-related. So they should ask us for non-floor mat related reports, right? But they are concerned that if they ask for these other reports, they will have many reports that just cannot be explained, and since they do not think that they can explain them, they don’t really want them. Does that make sense? I think it is good news for Toyota.”
Jeff Pepski is adamant that the carpeted floor mat played no role in his incident. In an e-mail to SRS he said:
“My incident occurred on February 3, 2009. My petition to NHTSA was dated March 13, 2009 and I met with the NHTSA reps [Bill Collins and Stephen McHenry with the DOT] and Toyota rep [Mike Zarnecki, the Field Technical Specialist from the Lexus Central Area Office] on May 1, 2009. Since no chain of evidence existed, the possibility of any observable witness marks as of May 1 would be remote and the level of reliability would be non-existent. All three parties were present when I asked Mike Zarnecki to demonstrate how the floor mats could have possibly caused the accelerator pedal to become entrapped. After much manual manipulation of the floor mat, he was able to show how it may occur. At my request he pulled up and pushed down on the gas pedal; the floor mat immediately became free. I explained that the SUA that I experienced did not cease after I had done the same while driving on February 3. If the floor mat had entrapped the accelerator pedal as all three claimed, the vehicle would have stopped accelerating after dislodging the floor mat. The SUA I experienced continued as the floor mat was not the cause.”
Once again, NHTSA investigators were confronted with a direct observation that floor mat interference was not a probable cause of this incident. Toyota had never identified carpeted floor mats in Lexus vehicles as a cause of UA; nor had it ever recalled carpet mats in Lexus vehicles. Yet, months after the incident, ODI still wanted to believe that Pepski’s event was just another case of mechanical interference, and was uninterested in receiving information that challenged that belief.
Systematic and scientific metrics to determine what to investigate remain undeveloped. Instead, ODI relies on a system of “feelings.”
Since the agency never developed its own knowledge base of automotive electronics, it is wholly dependent on the representations of manufacturers. While automakers are always going to know much more about how their vehicles work than any outside entity, NHTSA appears ill-equipped to challenge even the falsehoods that are easy to detect. During the early Toyota investigations of 2003 and 2004, the automaker insisted that the UA events showing up in consumer complaints could not be electronic, because the failsafe system had not detected them, and set a Diagnostic Trouble Code. This was the gospel according to the Silver Book – at least two simultaneous and detectable faults would have to occur for the cruise control electronics to cause a sudden acceleration; and that, in the absence of such detectable faults, the most ‘plausible explanation was driver pedal error.
Toyota knew that errors could occur without setting a DTC. (For example, in an unrelated investigation into unpredictable engine failure in 2005-2008 Corollas, Toyota submitted multiple field technical reports showing problems that the ECU did not catch and record.) In a matter of hours, Dr. David Gilbert, an automotive electronics professor from Southern Illinois University and Toyota owner, showed that the accelerator pedal position sensor’s circuitry could allow the vehicle could go to a wide open throttle without the ECM catching the error. Automotive techs know that a vehicle can have a problem with no code and a code with no problem. Yet NHTSA readily accepted Toyota’s representations about the infallibility of its system. The agency remains far behind in its understanding of complex vehicle electronics engineering and diagnostics, unable to refute or fruitfully examine potential malfunctions.
It can also be seen in the agency’s hiring decisions – ODI is still the province of mechanical engineers. Only after it was shamed in Congressional hearings about its lack of electronics expertise did it move to acquire a little. And because it doesn’t understand what it is supposed to be investigating, NHTSA doesn’t seem to understand what it should be regulating. Or is it the other way around? In either case, we are still awaiting the resumption of rulemaking around FMVSS 124 accelerator controls, written in 1972.
When Ford decided to bury evidence of the electronic root causes of UA, within the company and without, it helped to freeze the agency’s understanding of how to diagnose and remedy this difficult defect. This legal decision is as good an explanation as any for why, when it comes to automotive electronics, the agency isn’t even in the ballpark, let alone the ball game.
Toyota’s fix is a bust, owners claim
New complaints allege sudden acceleration and other problems after recall work.
By Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian
March 3, 2010
View the full story at latimes.com
Some Toyota owners have begun complaining that their vehicles suddenly accelerated even after dealerships made repairs to fix the problem, according to reports filed with federal safety regulators.
At least seven complaints, filed in the last two weeks with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, allege that after the recall service to modify pedals and replace floor mats the cars still surged out of control.
Although the allegations are unverified by the agency, they are a worrying sign that the nearly 10 million recall notices issued by Toyota may not fully address the problem of unintended acceleration — which some believe is caused by problems in the electronic throttle system, rather than mechanical issues involving pedals.
NHTSA has said it will review Toyota electronics to see whether they are a potential cause, and the automaker has commissioned a private study of its throttle system.
The safety agency said that it had begun to investigate the new reports of recurring sudden acceleration on Tuesday. “NHTSA has already started contacting consumers about these complaints to get to the bottom of the problem and to make sure Toyota is doing everything possible to make its vehicles safe,” said David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.
“There is already doubt out there that the solutions Toyota has put forward really fix the problem of unintended acceleration,” said Aaron Bragman, auto industry analyst at IHS Global Insight. He cautioned, however, that the complaints should be thoroughly investigated before definitive conclusions are drawn.
In one report, the owner of a 2010 Camry that was repaired Feb. 12 in Michigan said the car accelerated up a snowbank five days later. It had received special brake override software as part of the recall, the complaint said.
“Had the incident happened one minute earlier, I would have been in a high car/pedestrian area and would not have been able to avoid an accident,” the anonymous consumer wrote. “The fix done by Toyota is not the fix for the acceleration problem.”
In addition to the seven reports of sudden acceleration, several other complaints in the NHTSA database reported unusual vehicle behavior, such as errant check-engine lights, after the recall service.
The reports were first noted by Safety Research & Strategies, a vehicle safety consulting firm in Rehoboth, Mass.
The Japanese automaker is recalling 5.4 million cars and trucks because of a potential for the floor mats to trap the accelerator pedal, as well as 4.1 million vehicles with a gas pedal that can stick. Some vehicles are subject to both actions.
On Tuesday, Toyota executives appeared before Congress for the third time in the last week, telling the Senate Commerce Committee that it had designed “effective and durable solutions” for the problem and that its dealers had repaired more than 1 million vehicles through the recalls.
Under those recalls, Toyota is swapping out floor mats, replacing and modifying pedals and removing floor padding. It is also adding brake override software — designed to automatically reduce the engine to idle when both the brake and the accelerator are depressed — to seven models affected by the floor mat campaign.
Toyota spokeswoman Celeste Migliore said she was not aware of specific complaints alleging that sudden acceleration had recurred despite receiving the repair, but said the automaker closely monitored the NHTSA database.
“We very much would like to have any of those individuals who claim they’ve had unintended acceleration after the fix go back to the dealership,” Migliore said. “If there was an accident, we want to see the vehicle and the driver and the accident report.”
The number of complaints to NHTSA has skyrocketed since Toyota announced in late January that it would temporarily halt sales and production of eight models of cars and trucks following its announcement of the sticking pedal recall.
Those filings, many of which concern incidents from years earlier, have driven up counts of accidents in Toyota-related sudden acceleration events. On Tuesday, NHTSA said it now had reports of 52 fatalities in such accidents, up from 34 just a few weeks ago.
A concern among safety experts is that the brake override software, which has been described as a final solution to the problem of unintended acceleration, may in fact cause more problems by adding a new layer of software to the system.
“These fixes are not dealing with the root causes of the problem,” said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies.
The newly filed complaints claiming recurring sudden acceleration include incidents involving the Avalon, Camry and Matrix. Those models are currently being given the brake override software as part of the recall, along with the Lexus IS and ES. No complaints about post-repair incidents in the IS and ES were found in NHTSA databases as of Tuesday.
Last week, Toyota said it would expand the reach of that upgrade, which it calls “an additional measure of confidence,” to the Venza, Tacoma and Sequoia.
Among the other complaints was one involving a 2009 Camry in Massachusetts that “still does not respond immediately to de-accelerate” after the driver’s foot is taken off the pedal, even though it was taken in under the recall Feb. 22. Another described a 2008 Avalon in Atlanta that was repaired but only a few days later “accelerated on its own and . . . did about 3 loops around the garage area of the home causing damage to the car, benches, tree, bushes, lamp post, etc.”
Some consumers don’t allege unintended acceleration but say the fixes created other problems in their vehicles.
A 2007 Camry driver from Sherrill, N.Y., for example, said that since the repair, the car idles fast in reverse, cruise control does not disengage properly and various check engine lights come on. The owner of a 2005 Avalon in Houston, meanwhile, said that following the recall service, his wife stepped on the gas and found that nothing happened, causing it to lose speed on the highway.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) argued that until the definitive problem causing unintended acceleration was identified, the fixes implemented in the recalls, including brake override, would not solve the problem.
“It is not really a solution as much as it is a fail-safe strategy,” Cantwell said.
Toyota’s Crisis Puts Spotlight on Auto Electronics
No smoking circuit for Toyota, but recalls put spotlight on auto industry’s use of electronics
By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer
February 26, 2010
View the full story at abcnews.go.com
Investigations into whatever is lurking behind Toyota’s crisis of quality have put a spotlight on all that can go wrong with auto electronics — the growing number of wires, sensors and computer chips that have profoundly changed the automobile in the last decade.
Though no smoking circuit has been found so far, a picture is emerging that shows the automobile industry’s technology is racing ahead of quality-control testing and regulators. It’s troubling not only for Toyota owners but for drivers of any modern car that’s basically a computer on wheels.
Toyota insists that electronics played no role in the unintended acceleration that has sparked its massive recalls, and no one has been able to disprove it.
Lawyers, regulators, engineers and politicians aren’t so sure.
The auto industry has been moving at Pentium speed since the late 1990s to replace mechanical cables and other devices with computers to control everything from brakes to throttles to power steering. Automakers say electronics have made vehicles safer with devices such as air bags and antilock brakes. It’s also made cars more fuel efficient, cleaner and, usually, more reliable.
Still, things can go wrong and diagnosing problems is complicated.
Glitches can include buggy software, circuitry that’s randomly influenced by electrical interference and shorts caused by microscopic “whiskers” that sprout from solder. It can be one or more of these problems, as well as environmental factors — a blast from a heater vent or moisture from the road — that can cause a failure. Age also can be a factor.
“You’re looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “Those are very hard to reproduce. The problem happens and you go back and check and it’s not there. The normal tendency is to blame it on the driver and go on.”
And that’s what Toyota did initially.
Drivers complained their vehicles accelerated out of control — without stepping on the gas. But complaints were largely dismissed by Toyota, its dealers and government regulators, who blamed mechanical problems or drivers stepping on the wrong pedal.
Toyota, which until recently had a reputation for being high-quality and cutting-edge, began replacing mechanical accelerators with electrical ones starting with the Camry in 2002. Since the 2007 model year, all its cars have been equipped with the high-tech throttle.
An analysis of complaints by the auto safety research firm Quality Control Systems, found that the number of Toyota “speed control” complaints received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tripled since the electronic throttles were introduced. NHTSA says 34 people have died because of sudden acceleration crashes in Toyotas since 2000.
But the issue didn’t get much attention from Toyota until an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family were killed when their loaner Lexus sped out of control and crashed into traffic near San Diego. The Aug. 28 crash received widespread media coverage.
Just over a month later, on Oct. 5, the automaker recalled 3.8 million Lexus and Toyota models in the U.S. because of floor mats. In January, it recalled 2.3 million because of sticky accelerators. It later added more than a million to the floor mat recall, and also said some cars might be covered by both. So far, more than 8 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide to replace floor mats or fix pedals that get stuck because of condensation.
Toyota’s denial that electronics played a role in the problems has been repeatedly challenged. Questions linger, including why, according to a congressional analysis, 70 percent of Toyota speed control complaints involve vehicles not covered by the floor mat or sticky pedal recall.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., was asked at a congressional hearing this week if he could say with certainty that the fixes now being undertaken would completely eliminate unintended acceleration problems. Lentz replied: “Not totally.”
The company’s quick dismissal of electronic flaws and inability to fully explain the uncontrolled acceleration have generated many theories over what else might be in play. Flaws in electronics are well known to engineers who expect them and design around them. Some electronics experts have challenged the auto industry’s testing and backup systems.
The theories came up during this week’s congressional hearings, and Toyota repeated that it has found no evidence that electronics are at fault. But Toyota wasn’t alone in the hotseat. NHTSA, the nation’s auto safety watchdog, was attacked for not investigating complaints more thoroughly and earlier.
“Carmakers have entered the electronics era, but NHTSA seems stuck in a mechanical mindset,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif. “We need to make sure the federal safety agency has the tools and resources it needs to ensure the safety of the electronic controls and on-board computers that run today’s automobiles.”
Even if regulators get the resources, they have their work cut out for them. Diagnosing electronic glitches is far more complicated in today’s high-tech cars.
Michel Mardiguian, an engineer and consultant near Paris who specializes in tracking down electronic problems for automakers, recounts one such mystery involving a European automaker. On a cold day in 2005, one of the company’s employees started a preproduction model in his driveway and began wiping the dashboard with a cloth. Suddenly, the air bag blasted into his face.
The manufacturer suspected electronics and called in Mardiguian. He worked with engineers, hitting the air bag sensor with multiple electronic signals, using a Taser-like device to create static electricity and turning the heater on just like the driver did. (Mardiguian declined to identify the automaker.) Four days of extensive testing passed, but the problem couldn’t be reproduced.
Finally, someone on the assembly line noticed an errant wire that was causing a short on some of the cars. Still, engineers couldn’t make the air bag deploy. But when they hit the air bag sensor with static electricity and directed the heater vent at it, it popped.
“Electromagnetic interference leaves no trace,” Mardiguian says. “It goes away just as it came.”
Could that be behind Toyota’s problem? Toyota says it’s not.
“An automaker who declares bluntly that uncontrolled acceleration cannot be caused by electromagnetic interference because they have fully tested their vehicle is a liar, or naive,” he said.
Nearly all automakers have big, sophisticated labs that test their products for electronic glitches. Chrysler Group LLC, for instance, says it goes far beyond what cars will encounter in the real world and beyond standards set by the European Union or Japan.
Toyota currently has eight such labs, each half the size of a gymnasium, where the automaker blasts each car and component with electromagnetic energy.
Even so, is the testing sufficient? Some experts say automakers’ labs don’t have the time to replicate real-life conditions that vary with temperature, moisture and age of equipment.
Last year, Ford Motor Co. engineers found that signals from two wires in the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids caused the brake control computer to misbehave. The waves hit a sensor, sending a signal to the computer that it didn’t recognize, so it switched off the hybrid’s electric brakes and went to the backup hydraulic brakes, according to a Ford service bulletin.
“In the real world, there’s all sorts of different things that can happen,” said Keith Armstrong, a British electronic engineer and consultant who advises companies on electromagnetic interference.
Even if problems do crop up, backup technology should prevent the original glitch from turning into a catastrophic crash.
Airplanes, for example, are heavily shielded from electromagnetic signals and have as many as four independent systems that control devices such as flaps and the rudder. If one fails, another takes over.
Cars also have backup systems. Automakers say they prevent malfunctions and note that reports of problems are few given the number of vehicles on the road.
Most German automakers, Nissan Motor Co. and Chrysler, for example, have programmed their cars to cut engine power whenever the gas pedal and brake pedal are hit at the same time. If the throttle is stuck, for whatever reason, this “smart pedal” software gives control to the brake and prevents an accident.
Toyota has a system that kills the throttle when a computer gets unusual signals from gas-pedal sensors. It’s also started deploying “smart pedal” software in some models and pledges to add the feature to all of its new vehicles by the end of next year.
Toyota maintains its backup systems are sufficient — and all performed as expected in testing.
“We’ve designed our electronic throttle system with multiple fail-safe mechanisms, to shut off or reduce engine power in the event of a system failure. We’ve done extensive testing of this system and we’ve never found a malfunction that’s caused unintended acceleration,” Toyota’s Lentz said.
Still, just because no one has found an electronic flaw doesn’t mean there are none.
Clarence Ditlow, who leads the Center for Auto Safety, a consumer group, knows of a case of unintended acceleration in which a car had no floor mats, no sticking gas pedal and the driver clearly was pressing the right pedal because the brakes were scorched from heat.
“What else is there other than electronics?” he asked.
Cause of Sudden Acceleration Proves Hard to Pinpoint
By KATE LINEBAUGH And DIONNE SEARCEY
February 25, 2010
View the full story at wsj.com
Congress this week has begun wading into an issue that has vexed the auto industry for decades: Is sudden acceleration caused by driver mistakes, or by problems with cars?
The consensus among industry executives and federal safety regulators, embodied in a 1989 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is that most cases of sudden acceleration result from drivers hitting the gas pedal when they meant to hit the brakes.
But this week, witnesses at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have said that 21-year-old report is outdated in an age when many vehicles are controlled by electronic throttle and braking systems that didn’t exist in substantial numbers back then.
Toyota Motor Co. President Akio Toyoda told a Congressional committee Wednesday he was “absolutely confident” there was no design flaw in the company’s electronic throttle-control system.
When asked by a lawmaker whether Toyota would continue to blame drivers for sudden accelerations problems, Mr. Toyoda said: “I will make sure that we will never ever blame the customers going forward.”
Toyota’s U.S. sales chief, Jim Lentz, told lawmakers Tuesday, “I don’t think any manufacturer knows 100% what is causing” sudden acceleration. He said the company is confident “from what we know today” that electronics aren’t a problem, but that Toyota’s recent safety recalls may not totally solve sudden unintended acceleration in its cars.
Driver error is the auto industry’s bugaboo. Even when dealers and auto makers suspect driver error, it is difficult for them to outright blame their customers for fear of alienating them or appearing insensitive, as sometimes serious injuries or fatalities are involved. In Toyota’s case, some of the most high-profile incidents of sudden acceleration involve drivers who are elderly or with health issues that may never be definitively ruled out as contributing factors.
Mr. Lentz acknowledged after a hearing Tuesday that both auto parts and human error could be to blame. “I think in the case of sudden acceleration there are mechanical issues, there are human interface issues. There is pedal misapplication. It exists.”
Toyota is getting a lot of attention for sudden unintended acceleration, but Ford Motor Co. has been the subject of more complaints with federal regulators in the recent past. From 2004 to 2009, based on NHTSA data, Ford had 2,806 complaints, compared with Toyota’s 2,515. General Motors Co. had 1,192. A study by Edmunds.com, an independent market-research Web site, found that based on the number of vehicles on the road, Toyota ranked 17th in recalls.
Ford spokesman Said Deep said, “When you analyze NHTSA data and remove the complaints due to the speed control deactivation switch, which we recalled in 2005, Ford’s performance in this category has improved each year and our complaints have been significantly lower than Toyota’s each year since 2005.” Still, Mr. Deep said Ford’s speed deactivation switch—which shuts off the cruise control when the driver hits the brakes firmly—had no connection to sudden acceleration, and that about 14 million vehicles were recalled due to the potential of the switch causing fires while vehicles were parked.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Tuesday he would expand a probe into sudden acceleration to other auto makers.
In the 1980s, a consumer scare over mechanical defects in Volkswagen AG’s Audi 5000 vehicles caused Audi sales to collapse, but the NHTSA later determined the cause of the problem was “pedal misapplication,” meaning a driver was mistakenly hitting the gas instead of the brake. It took years for Audi’s sales to recover and a mechanical defect was never found in the vehicles.
Safety regulators, human-error experts and auto makers say driver error is the primary cause of sudden accelerations, and if there are no error codes in the electronics, there is no evidence to support an electronic failure.
“Many, if not all, are pedal errors,” said Richard Schmidt, a leading expert on human error, said of Toyota’s sudden-acceleration complaints. “There are all of these hypotheses flying around—the computer went haywire and it was left without a trace of evidence. What’s the evidence?”
Rhonda Smith, who testified before the House committee Tuesday, said her Lexus began accelerating on its own after her cruise-control light turned on by itself.
Toyota told Ms. Smith in a letter that the auto maker’s inspectors were “unable to duplicate the unintended acceleration you reported.”
A final report from NHTSA, dated May 2, 2007, noted an NHTSA investigator, Scott Yon, didn’t check the electronics. His report listed the cause as the pedal sticking to an all-weather floor mat, which was stacked atop a carpeted floor mat.
“When I got that I was pretty furious,” said Ms. Smith. “I called him and I said, ‘Scott, it wasn’t my floor mats,’ and I said it was the electronics. He said there’s an ongoing investigation on that.”
NHTSA says it followed up with the current owners of Ms. Smith’s Lexus and was told that they have had no problems since they bought it with less than 3,000 miles on the car. It now has about 30,000 miles on it.
Could electronics be what’s causing runaway cars?
By Jayne O’Donnell, USA TODAY
February 23, 2010
View the full story and a graphic at usatoday.com
Allegations of unintended acceleration by Toyota models that are not part of the recall and by cars from other automakers have revived debate over whether electromagnetic interference is the cause of such incidents.
The theory is that electrical signals — from sources as diverse as cellphones, airport radar and even a car’s own systems — briefly and unpredictably wreak havoc with sensitive electronic controls in vehicles. It’s an argument trial lawyers and consumer advocates have made for years.
Automakers contend that vehicle systems are designed with sufficient shielding and redundancy to prevent such malfunctions. They have tested for electromagnetic interference (EMI) and found no evidence of it for as long as plaintiff lawyers have blamed it for crashes. Several acceleration suits filed against Toyota claim an EMI link.
It’s virtually impossible to prove EMI caused a crash. Plaintiffs have won just one case arguing that issue alone. But there are enough unexplainable crashes and acceleration incidents to keep the door open to allegations.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration now is investigating whether EMI could be a factor in Toyota’s sudden-acceleration problems. It is NHTSA’s first serious look at EMI in decades, and members of Congress will explore it in Toyota hearings beginning today.
“If these congressional hearings probe deeply enough, they’ll discover that the car industry has known from the beginning that the most likely cause of sudden acceleration is internal electromagnetic interference,” charges Tom Murray, a Sandusky, Ohio, attorney who has brought dozens of acceleration lawsuits and is writing a book on sudden acceleration.
Toyota, however, says floor mat interference and sticky gas pedals are the causes of unintended acceleration in the more than 8 million vehicles it has recalled in the USA for either problem. It commissioned an outside company, Exponent, in December to look at the electronic throttle controls, which have replaced mechanical gas pedal and throttle systems in most vehicles of all makes since the 1990s.
According to a draft report obtained by USA TODAY, Exponent says it could not induce unintended acceleration through “electrical disturbances.”
But Keith Armstrong, a United Kingdom-based EMI expert, argues that the tests weren’t comprehensive enough to find whether EMI could be to blame. Two experts consulted by the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which is holding today’s hearing, were similarly critical. The panel’s leadership called it a flawed report, but Toyota says it is far from final and will be peer-reviewed.
NHTSA says it “has no reason at this point to believe” EMI is causing unintended acceleration in Toyotas. Still, looking at it anew is a turnabout. In 1975, a NHTSA report warned that EMI was a potential problem as electronics, just then being used in cars, became more common. Since then, however, its acceleration studies concluded that driver behavior was to blame and didn’t address EMI.
Murray, who says he was contacted by NHTSA defect investigators last month, believes that is a mistake. He blames EMI for all but “1% to 2% of all Toyota sudden-acceleration cases” and most of those in other vehicles, too. At least 14 sudden-acceleration lawsuits alleging EMI are pending, including ones against Toyota.
Onboard EMI sources
While EMI from external sources, such as traffic lights or radar, is possible, it is unlikely because it would require an unusually strong signal, says Brian Kirk, a U.K.-based consultant in software safety systems who advises in auto lawsuits. More likely sources are onboard components, he says, because even very low-power electromagnetic radiation from the car’s electronics could cause a problem. He says, for example, that EMI from poorly designed ignition wiring could disrupt signals in the electronic throttle or engine controls.
Internal EMI has been linked, Armstrong says, to high-voltage spikes when current in a wire or coil is switched, such as when the headlights or brake lights go off.
Automakers’ move to electronic engine controls, including throttles, has been driven by the need to meet tighter federal fuel and emissions regulations. They allow far more precise control of the engine operation and fuel use. Recent years have seen so-called drive-by-wire systems replacing mechanical control of other critical functions, such as steering assist.
Automakers’ quiet concerns
Testing for potential EMI is a closely guarded subject within automakers. But lawsuits over the years have uncovered documents citing internal concern.
Walter Gelon, then an employee at General Motors-owned Hughes Aircraft, warned in early 1987 that he thought EMI was behind reported unintended acceleration in GM vehicles, according to an internal memo obtained by Murray’s law firm, Murray & Murray.
“It seems very clear to me that (GM) vehicles have serious EMI problems which are triggering … unwanted acceleration,” Gelon wrote to Hughes colleagues.
But a late 1988 report provided by GM showed Hughes largely ruled out EMI as a cause of sudden acceleration after a lengthy GM investigation.
GM still holds that position. “GM has a robust testing and validation process for electromagnetic compatibility (among systems), and there is nothing past or current that suggests any unwanted acceleration issues related to EMI in our vehicles,” says spokesman Alan Adler.
Also in the 1980s, as use of electronics in cars expanded fast, EMI was on the minds of Ford engineers. The minutes of an October 1986 Ford Technical Affairs Committee meeting, provided by Murray & Murray, show Ford looked into whether “electromagnetic influences” were behind an increase in unexplainable electronic component failures.
Spokesman Said Deep said Ford later ruled out “electrical interference problems” and gave dealers better diagnostic equipment and training, which reduced the number of such warranty claims.
Armstrong, who was interviewed this month by NHTSA defect investigators, says “automakers almost never publicly acknowledge EMI problems,” but he remains sure they exist.
“Why would (automakers) spend millions of dollars on sophisticated EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) test facilities, and place EMC test requirements on all their electronic suppliers, if it wasn’t necessary?” asks Armstrong, who is president of the U.K.-based EMC Industry Association. He was an expert witness in a Ford sudden-acceleration case this month and is advising lawyers suing Toyota.
Armstrong reviewed the Exponent draft report on Toyota’s electronic throttles and called it “complete baloney.” He asserts that the “redundant” backup sensors the report suggests protect against EMI are ineffective because they are based on the same technology. He believes two different technologies must be used to keep multiple sensors from being affected in the same way at the same time.
Dozens of EMI testing centers
Automakers say they try to test for all possible electronic signals that could affect cars. There are dozens of EMI auto testing facilities in the U.S. and Mexico, including centers owned by GM and Ford.
Lee Hill, founding partner of Silent Solutions, which does EMI testing and consulting on autos says, “Anything with electronics has some vulnerability, but every important system on an automobile is tested very carefully.”
Hill says automakers have been testing for EMI since the 1960s, even before electronics controlled vital systems. He says that in addition to testing of onboard systems, vehicles are bombarded in a lab with external radio waves and driven through areas where there is known radio-wave interference.
Ford’s Deep says: “We have not seen issues from EMI or any other signal disturbances from external sources. We do also test extensively and rigorously for internal sources. Ford vehicles are designed to prevent unwanted acceleration by protecting against, detecting and evaluating electrical interferences.”
Toyota is building an EMI test facility in Ann Arbor, Mich., and already has one in Japan.
“We have never found … any issue of acceleration from the electronics,” Kristen Tabar, general manager of electronic systems for Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing, North America, said Monday during a briefing for journalists on Toyota electronics testing. “If interference did occur beyond what our testing would have found, (the system) would detect it and act appropriately.”
Toyota President Akio Toyoda said last week that its cars have “fail-safe” systems that shut the cars down when electrical interferences occur, a feature auto-engineering experts say is now standard in the industry.
Proving anything is tough
Certainty may remain elusive.
Mukul Verma, formerly one of GM’s top safety experts, points out that electronic throttle controls may be affected by other electrical and electronic systems, including those in the car, and that unintended acceleration may result from car sensor malfunctions, software glitches or from “electromagnetic interferences, which are random and still not fully understood.”
Verma, an adjunct professor of mechatronics (the relationship between mechanical and electronic components) at Lawrence Technological University in Southfield, Mich., points up the difficulty in being able to “rule in or rule out” EMI as a factor in sudden acceleration. “It’s just too hard to prove either way. The thing with electrical currents is, once they are done and gone, there’s no trace level. You can’t reconstruct any phenomenon caused by electrical current going into a computer.”
Toyota boasted it saved $100M with limited recall
BY BOB CAMPBELL, JUSTIN HYDE AND GREG GARDNER
February 21, 2010
View the full story at freep.com
Toyota’s leading U.S. executive boasted to the automaker’s Washington staff last summer that they had saved the company more than $100 million by limited any regulatory action on sudden acceleration to a recall of equipment such as floor mats, according to documents turned over to a key U.S. House committee holding hearings on the issue Wednesday.
In the documents, the deal with the government was listed among “Wins for Toyota” in an internal presentation by Yoshimi Inaba, chairman and CEO of Toyota Motors Sales U.S.A. in Washington last July 6. the company last summer. The documents were obtained by the Free Press on Sunday.
The documents were among thousands of pages turned over to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. A second committee will meet on Tuesday to discuss the Toyota recalls.
“The question this raises is was the bottom line factored into Toyota’s decision making,” said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for the committee’s ranking Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California “Did regulators do their due diligence once problems were brought to their attention? Did Toyota raise potential safety problems with regulators as soon as they knew a problem existed?”
Toyota defended its commitment to safety.
“Our first priority is the safety of our customers and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong,” the company said in a prepared statement. “Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality.”
Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide in recent months because of sudden acceleration problems the company and regulators have connected to entrapped floor mats and potentially sticky accelerator pedals. A third recall covered more than 400,000 hybrid vehicles, including the popular Prius for faulty brakes.
Earlier this month before the hybrid recall, Toyota executives estimated that the unintended acceleration recalls would cost $2 billion in lost sales and cost of extra parts for repairs. Toyota stopped producing eight models in the U.S. from Jan 26 until Feb. 8. Analysts have said the cost could be higher.
Toyota has said repeatedly that no malfunction in any of its vehicles’ electronic throttle system contributed to any incidents of unintended acceleration, which has been cited in hundreds of accidents, including 34 fatalities, according to NHTSA. But the automaker has offered a brake-override software remedy on 2007 through 2010 models of the Toyota Camry, Avalon, Lexus ES and IS models. Brake override ensures that the brakes will slow the vehicle if both accelerator and brake pedals are pressed at the same time.
Toyota is making the brake override standard equipment on all Toyota and Lexus models by the end of 2011 model year, but it has refused to offer it on many of the 5 million vehicles covered by the floor mat and sticky pedal recalls.
The estimated cost savings of more than $100 million was among nine points that Inaba’s presentation labeled as “Wins for Toyota.” In addition to the savings, Inaba made note that NHTSA had found no defect.
Of course, that was before the Jan. 21 recall that did find a possible defect in the gas pedals among 2.3 million vehicles, as well as the braking recall on Prius and two hybrid models sold in Japan.
Any company would be expected to treat a reduction of regulatory costs as a positive development. Toyota, however, likely never expected an internal presentation to become evidence in a highly public Congressional inquiry into the quality of its vehicles.
Toyota calls in Exponent Inc. as hired gun
The California engineering firm is known for helping big corporations weather messy disputes. It denies accusations that it skews results to benefit its clients.
By Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian
February 18, 2010
View the full story at latimes.com
When some of the world’s best-known companies faced disputes over secondhand smoke, toxic waste in the jungle and asbestos, they all turned to the same source for a staunch defense: Exponent Inc.
Now that same engineering and consulting firm has been hired by Toyota Motor Corp. as it seeks to fend off claims that sudden acceleration in its vehicles could be caused by problems in its electronic throttle systems.
A 56-page report that Menlo Park, Calif.-based Exponent sent to Congress on Feb. 9 found that the system behaved as intended and that Exponent was “unable to induce . . . unintended acceleration or behavior that might be a precursor to such an event.”
But Exponent’s research has come under fire from critics, including engineers, attorneys and academics who say the company tends to deliver to clients the reports they need to mount a public defense.
“If I were Toyota, I wouldn’t have picked somebody like Exponent to do analysis,” said Stanton Glantz, a cardiologist at UC San Francisco who runs a database on the tobacco industry that contains thousands of pages of Exponent research arguing, among other things, that secondhand smoke does not cause cancer. “I would have picked a firm with more of a reputation of neutrality.”
Mike Gaulke, executive chairman of Exponent and an employee of the company since 1992, called critiques that it produced only favorable research a “cheap shot.”
“Do we tell our clients a lot of what they don’t want to hear? Absolutely,” Gaulke said.
He said the firm often comes up with results that don’t favor clients, although he couldn’t provide specific examples.
Toyota says that it stands by the study — and the company.
“Exponent’s credentials are widely recognized and the firm has conducted testing for a wide variety of clients from the corporate, government and nonprofit sectors,” said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels. “We believe they are an appropriate choice to conduct independent testing of electronic control systems. Their research will be comprehensive and subject to peer review as well as public inspection.”
In the more than 40 years since it was founded by a group of Stanford PhDs, Exponent has worked for clients including Boeing Co., General Electric Co. and Ford Motor Co., primarily providing research for defense testimony in lawsuits.
According to Gaulke, 65% of the company’s revenue comes from materials for litigation.
Boasting $228 million in annual revenue, the company employs about 900 people, about one-third of them holding doctorates. The company, formerly named Failure Analysis Associates Inc., changed its name in the 1990s.
In the late 1980s, it was hired by Suzuki to conduct tests that showed that the Samurai sport utility vehicle wouldn’t tip over during turns at 38 mph, disputing research published by Consumer Reports magazine. In Exponent’s research, the Samurai successfully completed turns at 43 mph. It called the Consumer Reports test “stunt like.”
About 10 years ago, Ford, General Motors Corp. and Chrysler hired Exponent to help with their defense in a slew of lawsuits filed by mechanics who alleged that asbestos in brakes caused them health problems. Exponent’s findings upheld the automakers’ argument that the brakes were not a hazard.
The firm was hired by Exxon to show that a double hull probably would not have prevented the Valdez disaster of 1989. It was also hired by NASA to help determine causes of the Challenger shuttle explosion, and by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to survey the damages to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building after the Oklahoma City bombing.
Swiss Re, an insurer of the World Trade Center, hired Exponent after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks to argue its case that it should have to pay only half the $7 billion in claims sought on the grounds that the collapse of one tower would have compromised the entire complex even if the second tower had not fallen.
Last May, the Amazon Defense Coalition alleged that an Exponent study finding that dumping oil waste in the Ecuadorean rain forest did not increase cancer rates was tainted because the firm’s largest shareholder was a member of the board of Chevron Corp., which commissioned the study.
“The director involved was an outside director,” Gaulke said. “I doubt he knew that we worked on that.”
In the Toyota study, Exponent purchased six Toyota and Lexus vehicles from the 2002 through 2008 model years, testing them and comparing their performance to a 2008 Honda Accord.
The report describes how the Toyota electronic throttle control system operates and a few experiments that attempted to disrupt the normal function of the throttle, with no results.
“In all cases, the vehicle either behaved normally or entered a fail-safe mode where engine power was significantly reduced or shut off,” the study found.
But the tests described by Exponent did not appear to duplicate the sophisticated methods that automotive engineers say are needed to ensure that electromagnetic interference does not cause failure of the hardware or software of engine controls. Indeed, Exponent did not say it placed any Toyota vehicle in a test chamber that automakers routinely use to bombard cars with high-powered electromagnetic signals known to disrupt automotive electronics.
Cindy Sage, an environmental consultant in Santa Barbara who specializes in electromagnetic interference, said that much more extensive testing than described in the report would be necessary to find a potential problem.
Sage, who has faced off against Exponent witnesses on safety issues in the past, said Toyota’s hiring of Exponent was telling.
“The first thing you know is that when Exponent is brought in to help a company, that company is in big trouble,” she said.
Toyota Halts Sales of 8 Models in U.S. for Pedal Flaw
January 27, 2010
View the full story at nytimes.com
By NICK BUNKLEY
Toyota Motor, still struggling to resolve a problem with accelerator pedals, said Tuesday that it would temporarily stop building and selling eight models, including the popular Camry and Corolla sedans, in the North American market.
The unusual move follows two recalls of millions of vehicles in the last two months for a problem that the company has described as a “rare” condition in which the gas pedal can stick and cause a vehicle to speed up unintentionally.
“This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized,” Robert S. Carter, a Toyota group vice president, said in a statement. “We’re making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.”
The suspension has the potential to further damage Toyota, whose reputation for quality helped make it the world’s No. 1 carmaker in recent years. Toyota said it would immediately stop selling the Camry, Corolla and Avalon sedans, Matrix wagon, RAV4 crossover, Tundra pickup, and Highlander and Sequoia sport utility vehicles.
Toyota said the move was intended to restore confidence in the automaker, and the safety of its products. One analyst said many consumers might have a different reaction.
“The problem seems to be getting larger than anyone was led to believe at first,” said Erich Merkle, an analyst with Autoconomy.com in Grand Rapids, Mich. “A lot of those vehicles are probably in the garages of families. It gets people thinking, ‘Would I want my wife and kids in the vehicle, would they know what to do in a situation like that.’ ”
It will also stop building those models the week of Feb. 1. All of the vehicles are assembled in the United States or Canada, at a total of five plants.
The models affected accounted for more than a million sales in 2009, 57 percent of Toyota’s American total for the year.
Stock in Toyota was down 3.4 percent at midday on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
Toyota’s acknowledgement of problems with acceleration pedals reawakens one of the oldest safety issues in the auto industry. Manufacturers have long dismissed that a vehicle can race forward out of the driver’s control, contending that the problem takes place when a driver mistakenly pushes the accelerator while trying to hit the brake pedal.
Design changes to address sudden acceleration have focused until now on placing the accelerator pedal farther to the right relative to the steering wheel, so that drivers are less likely to depress it by mistake during an emergency.
The recession has led to a sharp drop in sales over all for the auto industry. For Toyota dealers, the news will likely further reduce their business.
“It’s not exciting to hear that a good portion of my inventory now can’t be sold,” said Paul Lunsford, general manager of South Coast Toyota in Costa Mesa, Calif.
But Mr. Lunsford, who has been a Toyota dealer for 30 years, applauded the company’s decision to move fast to suspend sales of the vehicles involved in last week’s recall. “Nobody had to put a gun to Toyota’s head to get them to do the right thing,” he said.
Still, Mr. Lunsford added, “it’s not the feel-good story of the year if you’re a Toyota dealer.”
A November recall by Toyota was intended to fix a design flaw that could cause the gas pedal to become trapped under the floor mat. It was prompted in part by the crash of a Lexus sedan that ran out of control and crashed into a ravine near San Diego, killing four people.
But the automaker and federal safety officials continued to receive reports of unintended acceleration and stuck pedals even in cases where the floor mats had been removed, a stopgap measure recommended by Toyota.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been looking into two recent episodes, in Texas and in New Jersey. Four people died on Dec. 26 near Dallas when a Toyota Avalon — with its floor mats in the trunk — went off a road and landed upside down in a pond.
In announcing a second recall last week, Toyota said the accelerator pedal could wear down and become difficult to depress, slow to spring back or get stuck partly depressed.
Toyota does not have a solution for the problem yet, and it said drivers who experienced it should depress the brake firmly and steadily, and then contact a dealer after the vehicle was in a safe location and turned off.
Drivers who have not had a problem should wait for the company to develop a remedy before visiting their dealer.
Together, the two recalls cover 4.8 million vehicles, including 1.7 million affected by both. The Prius hybrid and several Lexus models were included in the November recall but not in last week’s action or the sales halt.
The latest series of recalls threaten to undo all the efforts Toyota made in the middle of the last decade, when it was hit by a series of quality problems that caused recalls to spike. But a number of those recalls were for vehicles at least a decade old.
On its Web site, Toyota said the years and models affected in the sales suspension were the 2009-2010 RAV4 crossover, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007-2010 Tundra, and the 2008-2010 Sequoia.
The plants affected are in Canada, Kentucky and Texas, with two in Indiana.
The most recent recalls follow what Toyota insisted was a companywide effort to improve quality that was started by Katsuaki Watanabe, who served as its president before he was replaced last year by Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder.
The decision to stop production, though unusual, is not unprecedented. Detroit carmakers have delayed or slowed production to address quality issues.
The decision by Toyota on Tuesday has parallels to Ford’s response to Firestone tire problems in 2000 and 2001, but Toyota’s action is much more wide-ranging.
Ford did not halt sales of its Explorer sport utility vehicles when it recalled them in 2000 and 2001 for the replacement of Firestone tires.
The company did announce the suspension of production for one week in 2001 because Firestone had not yet made enough tires using a new design and manufacturing process to supply tires for both the recall and for new vehicles.
Keith Bradsher, Julie Creswell and Micheline Maynard contributed reporting.
Safety of cars’ keyless entry and ignition systems questioned
January 24, 2010
View the full story at latimes.com
The sleek Infiniti G37 Cindy Marsh bought last August was the car of her dreams, equipped with the latest keyless electronics technology that allows her to start the engine with the touch of a button.
But right away, the system gave her trouble. To get the engine started, she would sometimes have to tap the power button repeatedly. Sometimes it wouldn’t start unless she opened and closed the car doors, Marsh recalled.
She eventually adapted to the system’s quirks but said that even now she isn’t sure how to shut off the engine in an emergency.
“I don’t know if I ever read it in the owners manual or not,” said Marsh, who lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Old-school car keys appear headed for extinction, as automakers rush to install wireless systems that allow drivers to unlock their doors and start their engines with an electronic fob that they never have to take out of their purse or pocket.
Introduced less than a decade ago on luxury models, the push-button systems are rapidly spreading to all segments of the market, including bargain-priced Kias. The number of models with them as standard or optional equipment has quadrupled in the last five years.
Many drivers don’t fully understand how the systems work, however, leaving them vulnerable to potentially serious safety problems.
In complaints to federal regulators, motorists have reported that they were unable to shut down engines during highway emergencies, including sudden acceleration events. In other cases, parked vehicles accidentally rolled away and engines were left running for hours without their owners realizing it.
And although traditional keys all work the same way and are universally understood by consumers, automakers have adopted different procedures for using the keyless ignition systems. As a result, owners may not know how to operate their own cars in an emergency, let alone a rented or borrowed car.
“Where you have a second to make an emergency maneuver, you shouldn’t have to search around for the right procedure to use on a switch,” said Henry Jasny, general counsel at Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C., that pushes for laws to make roads safer.
The risk is considered serious enough that federal regulators and an auto industry trade group are looking at adopting standard procedures.
All of the systems rely on a similar architecture that uses a fob: a small transmitter that communicates with the vehicle’s computer. The fob can automatically open door locks when the owner approaches the vehicle, and then the engine can be started with just the push of a power button on the dashboard.
But to shut down the engine while the vehicle is moving, drivers must hold down the power button for one to three full seconds, depending on the make. In some cases, two or three successive taps on the button will work. Mercedes-Benz allows drivers to kill the engine with a single push of the power button, but only if the transmission is in neutral. At least one manufacturer prevents emergency engine shutdowns if the vehicle is moving at less than 5 mph.
Industry officials say that the devices have become wildly popular with buyers and that glitches will be eliminated through the normal course of technological improvements, making new regulations unnecessary.
“We really haven’t seen too much confusion with these systems,” said Dave Proefke, a vehicle security engineer at General Motors Co.
“As they become more widely adopted, I think we’ll find that they converge in how they operate,” he said.
Besides offering convenience for motorists, Proefke said, the technology gives auto designers greater styling freedom because there’s no longer the need for a key cylinder in the steering column. It also benefits older people who have difficulty removing keys from their pockets or turning a key in a lock.
And “it has that cool factor,” said Dan Edmunds, director of vehicle testing at www.edmunds.com, an Internet automobile research site.
Auto safety experts say the industry needs to do a better job explaining the functions of advanced technology to motorists and needs to adopt common operating procedures.
Automakers are offering the systems on 155 models this year, compared with 41 in the 2006 model year, according to Edmunds.com. Ford Motor is planning to make keyless ignition an option in its entry-level 2011 Fiesta, due out later this year.
But some owners say that confusing software rules have put them in peril.
Wally Brithinee was in his 2007 Toyota Avalon last August when it began to speed out of control on Interstate 5 near San Diego. Thinking quickly, Brithinee, president of an electric motor repair business in Colton, pressed the sedan’s power button, but nothing happened.
“This car isn’t stopping,” he told a passenger as he felt panic swelling in his chest. “I really didn’t know what to do at that point.”
Five terrifying miles later, Brithinee managed to halt the runaway Avalon by braking hard and shifting to a lower gear. He walked away unharmed. All that could have been avoided, he later learned, had he depressed the button for a full three seconds, the emergency shut-off procedure used in Toyota Motor Corp. vehicles.
A keyless ignition system may also have played a role in the Aug. 29 crash that took the life of California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor and three members of his family when a Lexus ES 350 lent to Saylor by a car dealer accelerated out of control to speeds of more than 120 mph before hitting an embankment in suburban San Diego County.
Some safety experts believe that a warning label should be included on the dashboard, telling motorists how to shut off the engine. But industry analysts say manufacturers typically resist installing such labels.
What’s more, automakers maintain that shutting off the engine may not be the best option in an emergency, because doing so will cause the driver to lose power steering and possibly braking ability.
Toyota has blamed the San Diego accident on a floor mat that trapped the accelerator pedal. But a September memorandum by investigators for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also identified the Lexus’ push-button ignition as one of the “significant factors” in the crash and noted that “there was no ignition key” that could shut down the engine or warning label on the power button to explain how to shut off the engine.
In the aftermath of the Saylor tragedy, Toyota issued a recall covering 4.3 million of its vehicles and said it would modify gas pedals, change floor padding and install new software.
Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the company is also discussing internally whether to change the function of its power button.
And Thursday, Toyota launched another recall targeting 2.3 million vehicles, including many of the models subject to the floor-mat recall, saying their gas pedals could stick.
Paul Green, a human factors expert at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said he sees the issue with keyless technology as part of a growing problem of high-tech features being introduced faster than the industry is able to agree on common operating procedures.
“The amount of research we are doing is not adequate,” Green said.
Motorists are confused even when they pay top dollar for advanced features. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found in a recent survey that a majority of owners of Infinitis equipped with automatic lane departure warning systems did not know that a button on the steering wheel turned the system on and off.
“They had no idea that they had a button on the steering wheel that could activate the system,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the institute.
The highway safety administration said in a statement that it has begun to look into possible standards for the keyless systems. And the Society of Automotive Engineers formed a committee in July to examine keyless technology and “study a possible standard on how long the ignition button should be depressed to shut off the engine.”
But new federal safety rules or industry standards typically can take years to adopt. The scrutiny is coming eight years after the first system was introduced by Mercedes-Benz.
Beyond safety problems, the push-button technology has some idiosyncrasies that have left motorists stranded but also provided loopholes for car thieves.
In early General Motors vehicles with push-button start systems, owners would sometimes shut down the engines with the transmission still in gear.
That would not electronically lock the ignition system, and thieves soon found they could simply get in the vehicle, push the start button and drive away, said Forrest Folck, a forensic mechanic in San Diego who investigated the issue for an insurance company.
“Cars were being stolen all over the United States,” he said.
Larry Stewart, a former Times sportswriter, discovered an opposite problem with the technology in his 2007 Toyota Camry.
After he parked at a Granada Hills restaurant last summer, the car would not start. The tow truck driver who came to Stewart’s rescue wasn’t surprised, telling Stewart he had been there several times recently for the same reason.
The driver blamed the problem on stray radio signals, possibly from a powerful police or fire station transmitter nearby. He towed the car 100 yards, and it started immediately.
“It’s really unnerving that such a thing could happen,” said Stewart, who lives in Arcadia.
Even GM engineers found themselves in the same situation when they parked test vehicles at a Detroit-area shopping mall and found that the keyless ignition system was disabled, according to Proefke, the GM expert.
“It was a dead zone,” he said.
Proefke said the problem was traced to interference from a nearby nightclub’s lighting system, which was broadcasting unlicensed high-power radio signals.
Toyota’s recall may spread to Europe
January 23, 2010
View full story at news.google.com
TOKYO — Japan’s Toyota Motor may recall its vehicles in Europe due to an accelerator problem that triggered massive recalls in the United States, a newspaper reported on Saturday.
The world’s largest automaker is considering recalling Corolla, RAV4 and other models produced and sold in Europe, the Mainichi Shimbun reported, adding that it was not clear how many vehicles were involved.
The models are equipped with similar accelerator pedal parts to those of 2.3 million vehicles recalled in the United States, the latest in a series of recalls by Toyota, the daily said.
The Japanese company’s US division said Thursday that the recall was to correct accelerator pedals on the vehicles that become worn and then in some cases get lodged in a partially depressed position.
The action was separate to an ongoing recall of about 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles that began last year due to a risk of loose floor mats slipping forward and jamming the pedals.
An unnamed senior official of the company told the daily: “We cannot tell how much this recall will cost, but it can be handled within our reserve (for unexpected troubles).”
But Mainichi said a decline in Toyota’s reputation for quality following the malfunction may trim its earnings, adding it could take time for Toyota to recover customers’ confidence in its production.
Toyota, which overtook US rival GM in 2008 as the world’s largest automaker, returned to profit in the three months to September and upgraded its outlook for the rest of the year thanks to demand for fuel-efficient cars.
Toyota issues new recall for 2.3 million vehicles
January 22, 2010
View the full story at latimes.com
Toyota Motor Corp. launched a major new recall Thursday, saying a mechanical problem could cause the gas pedals to stick and cause unwanted acceleration in 2.3 million of its vehicles, including recent models of its popular Camry and Corolla sedans.
Most of the vehicles targeted by the new recall were also included in a separate recall of 4.3 million vehicles late last year involving floor mats that could jam the accelerator pedal open.
In issuing its latest recall, Toyota has for the first time acknowledged that a mechanical problem could cause its vehicles to accelerate out of control.
“In the past they’ve unequivocally said that floor mats are the problem,” said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc., which has researched motorist complaints of sudden acceleration. “Now they suddenly find something else to blame.”
The Times has reported that at least 19 people had been killed in U.S. accidents involving runaway Toyota and Lexus vehicles, more than all other automakers combined. It also found that complaints of unintended acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles rose sharply after 2001, when the automaker began installing electronic throttle controls.
Kane and other safety experts say there is evidence to suggest that malfunctions by these electronic controls, sometimes known as “drive-by-wire” systems, may be a factor in the rising complaints.
In launching Thursday’s recall, Toyota executives said the culprit appeared to be the pedal mechanism itself.
“We have not found any problems with the electronic throttle control system that would lead to sudden acceleration,” said spokesman Bryan Lyons.
He added, however, that the automaker was continuing to investigate potential problems that could cause sudden acceleration and would “not rule anything out.”
The issue first came to national attention after an August 2009 crash of a Lexus ES 350 near San Diego that took four lives and prompted a public apology from Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda. That led to the eventual 4.3-million-vehicle recall, Toyota’s largest ever.
Toyota led all automakers in the total number of vehicles recalled in the U.S. last year, a first for the Japanese automaker.
“This situation is slowly spiraling out of control,” said James Bell, executive market analyst at auto research firm Kelley Blue Book.
“As a company with a reputation for steadiness, these must be uncomfortable days for Toyota.”
The new recall affects the 2005-10 Avalon, the 2007-10 Camry, the 2009-10 Corolla, the 2010 Highlander, the 2009-10 Matrix, the 2009-10 RAV4, the 2008-10 Sequoia and the 2007-10 Tundra.
Of the 2.3 million vehicles affected by this recall, 1.7 million were included in the floor-mat campaign.
The new recall also includes the 2009-10 Pontiac Vibe, which until recently was manufactured by Toyota in a joint venture with General Motors at their shared Fremont, Calif., plant.
Toyota said the new action was triggered by reports from motorists who complained that their accelerator pedals remained depressed after they took their foot off the gas.
“The condition is rare,” Toyota said in a statement, “but can occur when the pedal mechanism becomes worn and, in certain conditions, the accelerator pedal may become harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position. Toyota is working quickly to prepare the correction remedy.”
Toyota has not yet determined how it will fix the sticking-pedal problem, and in the interim it is asking drivers who experience the issue to halt the car with “firm and steady application of the brakes” and to notify a Toyota dealer immediately.
According to a letter filed by Toyota to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Thursday, the automaker first heard complaints about pedal malfunction in the Tundra truck in March 2007.
It subsequently launched an investigation into the problem after similar issues arose involving two models sold in Europe. That led to a design change for vehicles using that type of pedal in Europe.
Starting last October, the letter said, Toyota began receiving more complaints of sticking pedals in the U.S. and Canada, a problem the automaker attributed to condensation forming on a friction surface under certain circumstances.
The letter also identified a single manufacturer, CTS Corp.of Elkhart, Ind., as the producer of the suspect pedal assembly.
Reached by telephone, CTS Chief Executive Vinod M. Khilnani said he was “aware of several Toyota recalls but not of any details beyond that.”
He said that CTS manufactures pedal assemblies for Toyota in Canada, Britain and China, among other places, and that the parts could be on Toyota vehicles in numerous countries.
“We do sell them all over the world,” Khilnani said.
Toyota spokesman Lyons said that the new recall affected only the U.S. and Canada and that he did not know whether the automaker was considering extending it to other countries.
Toyota’s floor-mat recall is also limited to North America, and representatives have said that it wouldn’t affect other markets because the mats at issue are not sold elsewhere.
In that recall, the automaker is replacing or modifying pedals, swapping out floor mats, altering interior carpeting and installing software so that the brake overrides the throttle.
Toyota declined to indicate how many complaints of pedal sticking it had found. It did indicate, however, that a recent case of a runaway Avalon could stem from that problem.
Three days before Christmas, a Pittstown, N.J., man reported experiencing sudden acceleration in an Avalon that appeared unrelated to floor-mat entrapment.
Although safety investigators had suggested it could be related to the sedan’s electronics, Toyota spokesman Lyons said that the automaker had taken possession of the vehicle’s throttle body and pedal assembly and had found that the pedal was prone to the sticking problem.
“It matches our recall finding exactly,” Lyons said.
Michael L. Kelly, an attorney in El Segundo who filed a lawsuit last fall requesting class-action status against Toyota for unintended acceleration, said he was considering filing a second suit based on the new recall.
“I’m going to find one of these vehicles this weekend and tear it apart,” Kelly said.
It’s Complicated: Concerned Citizen Drops a Dime on Toyota
View full story on safetyresearch.net
As we all should have learned nine years ago from the Ford Explorer-Firestone tire maelstrom, it’s not often just one thing that creates a catastrophe of epic proportions. Defect issues that rise to the top of the charts are frequently the result of a multitude of problems that align to create a widespread hazard.
In the Ford-Firestone case, it was the marriage of tires with several poor design characteristics compounded by manufacturing problems and the application on an unstable vehicle. Add in the huge number of Explorers sold and the tires’ longevity, which kept them on the roads long enough to fail, and the result was rollovers, injuries and deaths. Now comes Toyota, with thousands of unintended acceleration complaints across different models, makes and model years and an easy-one-size-fits-all root cause: floormats.
That explanation is swiftly becoming unraveled as quick-thinking owners – like the 2007 Avalon owner from New Jersey who managed to wrest his out-of-control vehicle right to the dealership, where the evidence was revving and smoking in front of the tech’s eyes and couldn’t be floor-matted away. (see Sudden Acceleration in Reverse).
Now a “Concerned Citizen” in Franklin, Kentucky has offered NHTSA another interesting piece of the puzzle: broke throttle body shafts.
On November 27, about a month after NHTSA closed its latest Toyota unintended acceleration investigation with another pedal interference conclusion, some Kentuckian’s conscience got the better of him/her. Here is the anonymous note addressed the then-Acting Administrator Ronald Medford:
“There are potentially hundreds of Toyota and Nissan vehicles driving American highways with cracked shaft throttle bodies. Japanese management up to and including company president was aware of the cracked shaft problem and told everyone to be quiet about this problem.
The failure mode on DFMEA for broken throttle shaft is no throttle control and potential wide open acceleration. The Toyota floor mats caused American deaths. Will you sit on this information and possibly cause more American deaths? It bothers me that I did not tell anyone sooner. I have another throttle body in same condition that can be sent to Automotive News.
Coincidentally, Franklin Precision Industry (FPI) in Franklin, KY manufactures throttle bodies for Toyota and Nissan. FPI is part of Aisan Industry Co. Ltd., a large automotive supplier based in Japan, with its major shareholders Toyota Motor Corporation, at 35 percent and Toyota Industries Corporation at 18 percent.
NHTSA didn’t place the potential whistle-blower’s letter in the public file until Jan. 4.
Dear Concerned Citizen: Thanks for the tip. We’d like to see that cracked throttle body shaft – and we promise to investigate swiftly.
TOYOTA RECALL: Reports of Runaway Cars : Four Dead in Dallas Crash Where Problem Floor Mats Found in Trunk
January 21, 2010
View the full story at abcnews.com
Toyota, which launched the largest auto recall in U.S. history last fall after incidents of random acceleration resulting in fatalities, has just announced an additional recall of 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals. The recall was announced late Thursday afternoon, after ABC News informed the company that the latest in a long series of ABC News investigative reports into sudden unexplained acceleration in Toyotas was about to air.
Safety expert Sean Kane tells ABC News that since last fall, when Toyota said it had solved the acceleration problem with proposed changes to gas pedals and a recall of 4.2 million cars with suspect floor mats, more than 60 new cases of runaway Toyotas have been reported. He believes this latest recall may still not be a complete fix of a problem that continues to be linked with serious accidents and deaths.
In the most tragic incident, on the day after Christmas, four people died in Southlake, Texas, a suburb of Dallas, when a 2008 Toyota sped off the road, through a fence and landed upside down in a pond. The car’s floor mats were found in the trunk of the car, where owners had been advised to put them as part of the recall.
“There’s one thing that didn’t cause the accident,” said Southlake police spokesman Lt. Ben Brown.
Federal safety investigators have joined in the investigation, according to Lt. Brown.
Toyota executives had insisted in November that the recall of the floor mats in certain models and a proposed redesign of the accelerator pedal would fix the problem.
Reports of possible electronic problems or on-board computer glitches were strongly denied by the Toyota executives. “There is no evidence to support these theories,” said Bob Daly, a Toyota executive.
But the continued reports of runaway Toyotas since the November recall have shaken the company’s firm denials.
In another case, in New Jersey, a Toyota owner was able to make it to a local dealer with his car racing out of control, even though his foot was not on the gas pedal and the floor mats were not involved.
Kevin Haggerty, a salesman from Pittstown, New Jersey, said he had seen an ABCNews.com report about how to control a car experiencing unexpected acceleration — by shifting into neutral.
With his brakes smoking, and the engine racing, Haggerty summoned a Toyota manager to witness what was happening with his car.
Haggerty says after consulting with Toyota, the local dealer replaced the gas pedal and throttle and their sensors.
‘A Real Breakthrough Case’
“The Haggerty case is a real breakthrough case,” he said. “It’s a real problem and it points to electronic defects in the vehicle.”
Dozens of other Toyota owners had made similar claims about electronic problems with their cars, unconnected to floor mates, over the last few years, but they were routinely dismissed by Toyota as unfounded.
The latest recall, announced Thursday, affects the RAV4, Corolla, and Matrix models from 2009 and 2010, Avalons from model years 2005 to 2010, Camrys from 2007 to 2010, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007 to 2010 Tundra and the 2008 to 2010 Sequoias. About 1.7 million of the vehicles cited are also affected by the earlier recall.
The company says this action is separate from fall’s recall of 4.2 million cars to replace floor mats and alter accelerator pedals. The company had blamed floor mats for many of the acceleration incidents. An ABC News investigation, however, found that many drivers and safety experts rejected this explanation, asking instead if there was an issue with the electronic components that control acceleration.
Toyota says the recall of the “sticking gas pedals” covers Haggerty’s problem, but he says his gas pedal was never stuck.
In its statements, Toyota does not claim the “sticking gas pedal” recall is a complete fix and says it will continue to investigate other incidents of unwanted acceleration, including those cited by ABC News.
Toyota Driver: ABC News Videos Helped Save My Life
January 21, 2010
View full story at abcnews.com
Kevin Haggerty, a 45-year-old salesman from Pittstown, New Jersey, has seen plenty of car wrecks in his other job, a volunteer firefighter. When he went shopping for a car, he decided he wanted something safe and reliable, something that would protect his wife and two daughters, and that’s what he thought he’d gotten when he purchased a new 2007 Toyota Avalon sedan.
But in mid-2009, he says he started having trouble with occasional episodes of random acceleration. Haggerty says his Toyota would start revving and picking up speed and he’d have to stand on the brakes to slow it down. And then, three days after Christmas, there was an episode that would have resulted in a high-speed collision on Interstate 78, and perhaps fatalities – had not Haggerty used what he’d learned from ABC News to bring his runaway Toyota under control before it crashed.
Haggerty says problems with his Toyota Avalon started in the middle of last year. Haggerty would be driving through his hometown at 25 miles an hour and the car would begin accelerating. He took the car to his Toyota dealership in November after a couple of incidents. The mechanics there said they didn’t know what was causing it.
“They went through the car thoroughly and did all the diagnostic tests,” said Haggerty, “and they couldn’t determine why it was happening.”
The dealership did not attempt to blame the problem on poorly fitting floor mats, which was the official Toyota corporate explanation for the issue.
By then, Haggerty had seen ABC News reports on uncontrolled acceleration, and had also watched a video on the Blotter about how to control an accelerating car.
Three days after Christmas, on Monday morning, December 28, Haggerty was traveling east on Interstate 78, headed to work, when he says the car started accelerating again. Soon the car had revved itself up to 65 miles per hour. Haggerty remembered the video.
“I had my foot on the brake,” recalled Haggerty. The more he pressed the brake, the more the car accelerated. “It seemed like the accelerator was overpowering the brake.”
As Haggerty started to panic, he thought back to the video he’d watched. “I could see why some people would want to keep hitting the brake, keep pumping the brake rather than go into neutral. But I remembered the safest thing to do is to go into neutral and control the car, and that’ s what I did.”
After getting the car under control, Haggerty called the dealership on his cellphone. He realized he was close to the interstate exit that would take him to dealership. They had told him they had never witnessed the acceleration first-hand — now he was going to show them.
“I called the service manager,” said Haggerty. “I told him I’m having the problem right now.” They told him to bring the car in.
The car kept trying to accelerate, but switching from neutral to drive and back again as needed allowed Haggerty to steer the car onto an off ramp and the three miles to the dealership.
When he reached the dealership, the brakes and the tires were smoking. Haggerty put the car in neutral. The engine was still revving.
The first thing the service manager did, said Haggerty, was check the floor mat. The mat was still in place, attached to the floor with factory-installed brackets. “He even confirmed to me,” said Haggerty, “that it’s not the floor mat that’s the problem. It was accelerating and he witnessed it. He sat in the seat and he witnessed it accelerate.”
The service manager called a Toyota representative. According to Haggerty, the Toyota representative told the service manager to replace the gas pedal and the throttle and their sensors.
Haggerty has not had another incident of random acceleration since the parts were replaced. He feels fortunate that he was alone in the car on December 28.
“After I got out of the car at the dealership, the first thing I thought about was my family,” said Haggerty. “And if they were in the car, if my wife was driving – you know, I’m not sure if she would have panicked and kept hitting the brake pedal and known enough to put it into neutral. That flashed through my mind, you know. If my wife and kids were in the car.”
On Thursday, Toyota announced a recall of 2.3 million vehicles to fix sticky accelerator pedals. The company said the recall would cover Haggerty’s Avalon. Haggery, however, says he does not have a sticky gas pedal.
Last fall Toyota recalled 4.2 million vehicles, saying that fixing floor mats and altering gas pedals would address random acceleration.
Consumer Reports Blog: Analysis shows over 40-percent of sudden acceleration complaints involve Toyotas
December 7, 2009
View the full story at consumerreports.org
Toyota and Lexus models for 2008 had a much greater incidence of sudden, unintended acceleration than other brands, according to Consumer Reports’ analysis of a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) safety complaints database. In our review of 2008 model-year data, Ford also stood out with a significant number of related complaints. Both automakers had a disproportionate number of occurrences for their market share, though the statistical likelihood of experiencing such events is low.
In analyzing all 5,916 reports on 2008 models, Consumer Reports’ Auto Test Center and Statistics Department identified 166 cases in which the complaint described sustained unintended acceleration that the driver found difficult or impossible to control. Such incidents prompted a related safety advisory focused on floor-mat entrapmentissued by both NHTSA and Toyota in September, 2009.
We used 2008 models to provide a snapshot across all automakers and identify possible issues. The scope was further narrowed to complaints submitted before Aug. 28, 2009, when a California family was killed in a Lexus sedan experiencing uncontrollable acceleration, to eliminate the impact media coverage had in drawing more submissions.
Toyota, Lexus lead with complaints
The sudden-acceleration incidents were distributed over 22 brands, but they were not spread evenly. Forty-seven complaints were about Toyota models and five were for Lexus vehicles. Between them, Toyota and Lexus accounted for more than a third of all the unintended-acceleration incidents we found among 2008-model vehicles. Seen another way, Toyota racked up more unintended-acceleration complaints than Chrysler, GM, Honda, and Nissan combined.
As major automakers, Toyota Motor Corporation and Ford Motor Company sell more vehicles than most competitors. To put the figures into proper perspective, we compared the number of complaints against overall market share.
Looking at all complaints on 2008 models through November, we find that Toyota had a significant increase after the media attention following the California tragedy and the company’s safety advisory mailings to owners. In November, the total count for Toyota and Lexus rises to 80 incidents, representing 48 percent of the complaints from all brands.
In the acceleration cases we scrutinized, drivers reported that sometimes their car lurched from a standstill, fighting the brakes. Other times it took off while cruising the highway, or while parking, or even while going in reverse.
Representative Toyota owner comments pulled from the NHTSA database:
“While entering an on-ramp the [2008 Tacoma] truck accelerated on its own, going out of control crashing sideways into a guard rail…”
“My 2008 Prius accelerated almost out of control. I was merging onto an expressway when the accelerator seemed to have a life of its own and took off at an incredibly high rate of speed…”
“I felt the vehicle [2008 Lexus ES 350] increasing in speed to about 90 mph, without depressing the accelerator. I had been on cruise control at about 73 mph… [A] passenger screamed at me to slow down. I was unable to do so, even after stepping forcefully on the brakes.”
Ford complaints are also high, GM especially low
With 36 complaints, Ford was the only other manufacturer with a disproportionately high number of reported cases. Some consumers’ personal accounts indicate that the pedal arrangement in the popular F-150 pickup makes it too easy to hit the brake and accelerator at the same time, although there are other detailed sudden-acceleration events that are not readily explained.
Representative 2008 Ford F-150 complaints from the NHTSA database:
“This Ford F-150 pickup truck has the widest gas (accelerator) pedal I have ever seen and as a result my right foot continues to press down on it, even after I have started applying the brake pedal with the same foot.”
“I entered the vehicle, started the engine, and put the vehicle in drive. The engine immediately increased in rpm to the point where the rear tires began spinning on the gravel. I put the transmission in Neutral and the engine rpm increased. I removed my foot from the brake and the engine continued at a very high rpm. I then depressed and released the accelerator and the engine returned to a normal idle.”
“…the truck spontaneously accelerated at full throttle with my foot firmly on the brake… I was advancing without applying the accelerator. With the brakes fully applied, I continued to advance into the parking lot and I immediately shifted into Park in attempt to stop the vehicle. The vehicle came to a stop and the engine was racing at full throttle in Park.”
The bottom line
Because it is dependent upon motorist submissions, the NHTSA complaint database does not reflect all sudden, unintended acceleration cases. But the data does show statistically more complaints for certain Toyota, Lexus, and Ford brand models.
Another way of looking at the extent of complaints is to compare them to model-year sales. Based on our analysis, the ratio of reports for experiencing such a problem on 2008 model-year vehicle from Toyota Motor Corporation is about one in nearly 50,000. The Ford Motor Company’s reported risk is about one in nearly 65,000. In contrast, the reported risk for a GM model is just one in 500,000.
Owners are cautioned to heed recalls and learn the safe way to deal with unintended acceleration. (Read “Putting a car in Neutral might save your life” and “Putting stuck floor mat survival strategies to the test.”)
Toyota has announced several steps it is taking to mitigate the risks of floor-mat entrapment and provide “smart throttle” technology (allowing the brake pedal to override the accelerator), but our analysis indicates other problems likely exist.
We hope to see the introduction of smart-throttle technology on all vehicles, providing a means for the driver to quickly and safely regain control of the car in unintended acceleration scenarios.
Data point to Toyota’s throttles, not floor mats
Amid widening concern over acceleration events, Toyota has cited ‘floor mat entrapment.’ But reports point to another potential cause: the electronic throttles that have replaced mechanical systems.
November 29, 2009
View the full story at latimes.com
Eric Weiss was stopped at a busy Long Beach intersection last month when he said his 2008 Toyota Tacoma pickup unexpectedly started accelerating, forcing him to stand on the brakes to keep the bucking truck from plowing into oncoming cars.
Toyota Motor Corp. says the gas pedal design in Weiss’ truck and more than 4 million other Toyota and Lexus vehicles makes them vulnerable to being trapped open by floor mats, and on Wednesday, it announced a costly recall to fix the problem.
But Weiss is convinced his incident wasn’t caused by a floor mat. He said he removed the mats in his truck months earlier on the advice of his Toyota dealer after his truck suddenly accelerated and rear-ended a BMW.
“The brakes squealed and the engine roared,” the 52-year-old cabinet maker said of the most recent episode. “I don’t want to drive the truck anymore, but I don’t want anyone else to, either.”
Amid widening concern over unintended acceleration events, including an Aug. 28 crash near San Diego that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and his family, Toyota has repeatedly pointed to “floor mat entrapment” as the problem.
But accounts from motorists such as Weiss, interviews with auto safety experts and a Times review of thousands of federal traffic safety incident reports all point to another potential cause: the electronic throttles that have replaced mechanical systems in recent years.
The Times found that complaints of sudden acceleration in many Toyota and Lexus vehicles shot up almost immediately after the automaker adopted the so-called drive-by-wire system over the last decade. That system uses sensors, microprocessors and electric motors — rather than a traditional link such as a steel cable — to connect the driver’s foot to the engine.
For some Toyota models, reports of unintended acceleration increased more than fivefold after drive-by-wire systems were adopted, according to the review of thousands of consumer complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Toyota first installed electronic throttles in 2002 model year Lexus ES and Camry sedans. Total complaints of sudden acceleration for the Lexus and Camry in the 2002-04 model years averaged 132 a year. That’s up from an average of 26 annually for the 1999-2001 models, the Times review found.
The average number of sudden-acceleration complaints involving the Tacoma jumped more than 20 times, on average, in the three years after Toyota’s introduction of drive-by-wire in these trucks in 2005. Increases were also found on the hybrid Prius, among other models.
Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said the automaker could not explain the trend. But Toyota has consistently held that electronic control systems, including drive-by-wire, are not to blame.
“Six times in the past six years NHTSA has undertaken an exhaustive review of allegations of unintended acceleration on Toyota and Lexus vehicles,” Toyota said in a statement this month. “Six times the agency closed the investigation without finding any electronic engine control system malfunction to be the cause of unintended acceleration.”
NHTSA officials have consistently said they have not found any electronic defects. “In the high-speed incidents, which are the type of crashes in which death or serious injury is most likely, the only pattern NHTSA has found to explain at least some of them are pedal entrapment by floor mats,” a spokeswoman said in a written statement.
Toyota has been under a spotlight since the San Diego crash, in which the driver’s desperate efforts to stop the car were recorded on a 911 emergency call made by a passenger.
After that incident, The Times reported that sudden-acceleration events involving Toyota vehicles have resulted in at least 19 deaths since the introduction of the 2002 model year. By comparison, NHTSA says all other automakers combined had 11 fatalities related to sudden acceleration in the same period.
Independent electronics and engineering experts say that the drive-by-wire systems differ from automaker to automaker and that the potential for electronic throttle control systems to malfunction may have been dismissed too quickly by both Toyota and federal safety officials.
Unlike mechanical systems, electronic throttles — which have the look and feel of traditional gas pedals — are vulnerable to software glitches, manufacturing defects and electronic interference that could cause sudden acceleration, they say.
Ask the computer
“With the electronic throttle, the driver is not really in control of the engine,” said Antony Anderson, a Britain-based electrical engineering consultant who investigates electrical failures and has testified in sudden-acceleration lawsuits. “You are telling the computer, will you please move the throttle to a certain level, and the computer decides if it will obey you.”
Although Toyota says it knows of no electronic defects that would cause a vehicle to surge out of control, it has issued at least three technical service bulletins to its dealers warning of problems with the new electronic throttles in the 2002 and 2003 Camry.
The throttle systems on six-cylinder engines can cause the vehicle to “exhibit a surging during light throttle input at speeds between 38 mph and 42 mph,” according to one of the bulletins that was published by Alldata, a vehicle information company. The solution provided to dealers was to reprogram the engine control module.
NHTSA, the nation’s primary agency for auto safety, has conducted a total of eight investigations of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles since 2003, prompted by defect petitions from motorists and its own examination of complaints. But the agency has tested electronic throttle systems only twice in those probes, its records show.
Three years ago, the agency asked Toyota to test an electronic throttle component from a 2006 Camry, a task the company delegated to the Japanese supplier that manufactured the part. The supplier exonerated the throttle, and then NHTSA allowed Toyota to keep virtually the entire 74-page report almost completely confidential. The report, posted on the agency’s website, has dozens of redacted pages.
The other test, conducted at a NHTSA laboratory in Massachusetts, found that a Toyota throttle exhibited unusual behavior when researchers applied a magnetic field to the device’s sensitive electronics. Engine speed surged by 1,000 revolutions per minute, according to a 2008 report by the agency’s Vehicle Research and Test Center.
Nonetheless, the lab concluded that the system “showed no vulnerabilities to electric signal activities.” The details of the experiment were not explained in the lab report, and the agency never explained the apparent contradiction.
The electronic throttle was first introduced by BMW in 1988.Like a conventional throttle system, it controls the flow of air into the engine. Today, every new Toyota vehicle sold in the U.S. uses drive-by-wire. The systems cost less to install on the assembly line and increase the efficiency of the vehicle.
To run these advanced throttle systems, each automaker develops its own electronic control modules and proprietary software that has unique control logic. The operations of the systems are opaque to consumers, as are potential failures.
In a worst-case scenario, consultant Anderson says, stray electrical voltages, electromagnetic signals or bad sensor readings could cause an undetectable error within the car’s network of up to 70 microprocessors, setting off an unpredictable chain of reactions. One of those, he said, could be a command to completely open the throttle.
The auto industry has battled allegations of electronic defects in sudden-acceleration lawsuits for more than two decades, arguing that they are not caused by any vehicle defect.
Richard Schmidt, a former UCLA psychology professor and now an auto industry consultant specializing in human motor skills, said the problem almost always lies with drivers who step on the wrong pedal.
“When the driver says they have their foot on the brake, they are just plain wrong,” Schmidt said. “The human motor system is not perfect, and it doesn’t always do what it is told.”
To be sure, the complaints by Toyota and Lexus owners about sudden acceleration involve a tiny share of the company’s vehicles on the road.
But runaway acceleration represents a high proportion of the complaints filed by consumers about Toyota in federal databases. For the 2007 Lexus ES sedan, for example, 74 of 132 complaints filed with NHTSA alleged sudden acceleration.
And independent experts say the number of complaints actually filed is only a tiny fraction of all potential problems, because most people don’t bother filing a report.
Critics say NHTSA hasn’t kept pace with technological changes.
The auto industry has undergone a technological revolution in the last decade, and today about 25% of a vehicle’s price reflects its electronics content. Nonetheless, NHTSA has adopted few, if any, standards for designing or testing vehicle electronics, according to industry officials. Indeed, the agency’s two-page safety standard for accelerators was adopted in 1973.
Dale Kardos, who runs a consulting firm that helps automakers with regulatory issues, said manufacturers had repeatedly tried to get that standard updated because they feared they could no longer comply. “The industry would like to see standards written to reflect modern technology,” Kardos said.
Instead, independent organizations and the industry itself are setting standards and developing safety policies. The International Organization for Standardization, a nongovernment group that sets industrial standards, recently introduced a new standard for automakers to protect vehicle electronics.
Supplier TRW Automotive Holdings Corp., which makes computerized controls for brakes and air bags, said its systems have multiple layers of redundancy to make sure electronic faults are detected and isolated.
“Manufacturers’ standards are far above the regulatory standards,” said Ian Harvey, TRW’s executive lead for electromechanical compatibility. “You wouldn’t want somebody to make a cellphone call and the air bag goes off. That potentially could happen if you didn’t take the proper precautions.”
Despite the huge increase in complexity, when NHTSA investigators conduct field tests of alleged malfunctions of Toyota throttle systems, they rarely do more than drive suspect vehicles for a few miles, test the brakes and plug a diagnostic tool into their onboard computers to look for error codes, investigation records show.
Michael Pecht, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland who has studied sudden acceleration for 10 years, said it’s nearly impossible to replicate an electronic control system fault simply by driving a short distance.
“These are not things that occur every day. If it occurred a lot, you could track it down. If it occurs once in 10,000 trips, then it is difficult to find,” he said.
What’s more, said Huei Peng, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Michigan and a specialist in vehicle control systems, many of the kinds of electronic errors that a modern car is susceptible to are not detectable by the car’s fault detection system.
“When there’s no error code, it doesn’t mean there’s no error,” Peng said.
Despite the potential risks associated with electronic systems, NHTSA’s own reports indicate it often does not test them while investigating unintended acceleration.
In a 2005 probe of Lexus ES vehicles, NHTSA reported that its investigator reviewed two vehicles that had allegedly surged out of control, but that “no interrogation or communication with the electronic systems was performed” before giving them a clean bill of health.
Texas resident Thomas Ritter, who has a mechanical engineering degree and spent 15 years as an engineer at General Motors, Chrysler and other auto and truck makers as well as 25 years designing oil exploration equipment, believes Toyota’s acceleration problem lies in the electronics.
Last July, his wife was driving her 2006 Lexus ES 330 with four grandchildren near Houston when it accelerated out of control. To avoid a wreck, she crossed four lanes of traffic before smashing into a masonry sign, totaling the car and deploying the air bags. No one was seriously injured.
“When you think about a machine operated by computers, almost anything can go wrong,” Ritter said.
A ‘smart pedal’
Toyota announced Wednesday that it had developed a series of fixes to prevent floor mats from causing sudden acceleration.
In 4.26 million vehicles in the U.S. and Canada, Toyota said it would cut off a segment of the accelerator pedal and then later install a newly designed pedal. It also will add a so-called smart pedal, software that cuts engine power any time both the accelerator pedal and brake pedal are depressed at the same time.
Such software has already been adopted as a safety feature by a number of automakers, including Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, BMW, Nissan and Chrysler, the companies said.
Independent auto safety experts said that though all of Toyota’s fixes would help reduce the problem, it has not gotten to the root cause.
“These incidents are coming in left and right where you can’t blame the floor mats,” said Sean Kane, president of the consulting firm Safety Research and Strategies. “So they are chipping away at a problem that is widespread and complicated without having to unravel a root cause that could be very expensive.”
Toyota to replace 4M gas pedals that could jam
View the full story at news.yahoo.com
WASHINGTON – Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it will replace accelerator pedals on about 4 million recalled vehicles in the United States because the pedals can get stuck in the floor mats.
As a temporary step, Toyota will have dealers shorten the length of the gas pedals beginning in January while the company develops replacement pedals for their vehicles, the Transportation Department and Toyota said. New pedals will be available beginning in April, and some vehicles will have brake override systems installed as a precaution.
Popular vehicles such as the passenger car in America, and the , the best-selling gas-electric hybrid, are among those recalled. Also included is the luxury Lexus ES350, the model in a fiery fatal accident in California that focused public attention on the danger., the top-selling
Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, announced the massive recall in late September and told owners to remove the driver’s side floor mats to prevent the gas pedal from potentially becoming jammed. The recall and extensive fix is the latest problem to confront the Japanese automaker’s sterling reputation for quality during a period of rapid growth, and it prompted top executives to push for improved quality controls.
“The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified,” Toyota said in a statement.
The recall includes 3.8 million vehicles, including the 2007-10 model year Camry, 2005-10 Toyota Tundra, 2007-10 Lexus ES350 and 2006-10Lexus IS250/350. Toyota officials said about 4 million vehicles would be covered, including new cars and trucks sold since September and others manufactured since the recall was announced., 2004-09 Prius, 2005-10 , 2007-10
Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said company investigators found pedal entrapment to be the major issue and the company is “very, very confident that we have addressed this issue.” Miller said Toyota has found “no reason to believe that there is a problem with the electronic control systems.”
Toyota spokesman Takanori Yokoi said the recall only involved vehicles in North America and did not affect vehicles in Japan. He had no estimate on how much the recall would cost Toyota. Masato Nozawa, spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, said “if similar problems are found in Japan as well, then a recall could be considered.”
On Tuesday, Toyota announced a recall of 110,000 Tundra trucks from the 2000-03 model years to address excessive rust on the vehicle’s frame.
The recall involving the accelerators was Toyota’s largest in the U.S. It was prompted by a high-speed crash in August involving a 2009 Lexus ES350 that killed a California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family near San Diego. The Lexus hit speeds exceeding 120 mph, struck a , launched off an embankment, rolled several times and burst into flames.
A family member in the runaway Lexus made a frantic 911 call moments before the crash, telling emergency responders that the accelerator was stuck and the driver couldn’t stop the car. The call ended as someone was overheard urging others to hold on and pray, followed by a woman’s scream.
In Japan, Toyota President Akio Toyoda called the fatal crash “extremely regrettable” and offered his “deepest condolences” to the California family.
Investigators with the floor mat found in the wreckage was slightly longer than the mat that belonged in the vehicle, and could have snared or covered the accelerator pedal.determined that a rubber all-weather
The government has attributed at least five deaths and two injuries to floor mat-related unintended acceleration in the Toyota vehicles and has received reports of more than 100 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck. A Massachusetts-based safety consultant who has investigated the Toyota cases, however, has found more than 2,000 incidents involving 16 deaths and 243 injuries potentially tied to the Toyota gas pedals.
To fix the problem, Toyota and the government said dealers will shorten the length of the accelerator pedal on the recalled vehicles and in some cases remove foam from beneath the carpeting near the pedal to increase the space between the pedal and the floor. They said owners of the ES350, Camry and Avalon would be the first to receive notification because the vehicles are believed to have the highest risk for pedal entrapment.
Toyota plans to install a brake override system on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES350, IS350 and IS250 models as an “extra measure of confidence,” Toyota and NHTSA said. The brake override system, commonly called a “smart brake,” will ensure the vehicle will stop if both the brake and the accelerator pedals are applied simultaneously.
Toyota also plans to make the brake override system standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus lineup starting with January 2010 production of the ES350 and Camry. Most new models will get the equipment by the end of 2010.
Dealers will be instructed on how to modify the pedals before the end of the year and will begin shortening the accelerators in 2010. New replacement pedals are expected to be available for some models beginning in April and will be provided even if the vehicles have already received a modified pedal under the recall.
The automaker and government regulators have been discussing a potential fix for several weeks. In late September, Toyota announced the recall and told owners to remove driver’s side floor mats and not replace them until the company had determined a remedy for the problem. The automaker said unhooked floor mats or replacement mats stacked on top of the originals could lead to stuck accelerators.
In early November, Toyota issued a statement saying NHTSA had confirmed “that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.” But in a rare rebuke, NHTSA accused Toyota of releasing misleading information about the recall, saying removing the mats did not “correct the underlying defect.” Toyota said it was not the company’s intention to mislead anyone.
If a vehicle accelerator pedal becomes stuck and a driver can’t dislodge it, Toyota advises drivers to press on the brake with both feet and then shift the vehicle into neutral, which will disengage the transmission. The automaker says drivers should continue braking until the vehicle comes to a stop.
A driver can also try shutting off the engine or turning the key to the “ACC” position on the ignition. Drivers will not lose control of the steering or the brakes. But once the vehicle is turned off the driver won’t have the benefit of power brakes or power steering. For vehicles that have a start/stop button for the engine, drivers are advised to hold the button for three seconds to turn it off.
For more information, owners can contact Toyota at 800-331-4331 or the NHTSA hot line at 888-327-4236.
Toyota looking beyond the mats
Fixes discussed in giant recall
November 18, 2009
Detroit Free Press
View the full story at freep.com
Federal regulators and Toyota Motor Corp. are discussing whether the automaker needs to fix gas pedals or floor pans in millions of recalled vehicles instead of blaming floor mats, which the automaker had maintained was the source of unintended acceleration cases.
The talks are the result of new evidence from safety tests and allegations in some lawsuits, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has received more than 400 complaints about acceleration problems that include several fatalities.
In September, Toyota — which built its reputation on quality — asked owners of 3.8 million Camry, Prius and other models to remove driver’s-side floor mats as part of the company’s largest-ever U.S. recall.
But now, the automaker is discussing the gas pedal and floor pan repairs, Karen Aldana, a NHTSA spokeswoman, said Tuesday.
Still, lawyers are pointing to other potential problems.
Attorneys for Guadalupe Alberto allege a malfunctioning electronic throttle control caused her 2005 Camry to surge from less than 25 m.p.h. to about 80 m.p.h. in 2008. She died after her car hit two trees, despite the brakes being pressed. The lawyers say the Camry had no driver’s-side mat in place.
Toyota continues to deny that electronic technology was a factor in any reported case of unintended acceleration, said spokesman Mike Michels. He said Toyota wants to fix any engineering or mechanical flaws that testing reveals.
Deaths blamed on sensors
Alberto’s case provides an ironic twist in the Japanese automaker’s effort to contain its largest-ever U.S. recall.
Alberto, a 77-year-old General Motors Co. retiree from Flint, died in April 2008 after her Camry sped and hit two trees although she “vigorously and desperately” applied her brakes, according to the lawsuit filed in Genesee County Circuit Court by Lilia Alberto, a representative of her estate.
The suit names as defendants Toyota and Denso International, a major supplier based in Southfield, which produced the electronic throttle control system that Alberto’s lawyers charge malfunctioned.
Specifically, the Alberto lawyers allege the accident was caused by “the vehicle’s propensity for confusion in the sensors and electronics processors” in the throttle control unit “as the result of transient signals.”
“Intermittent radio waves or electronic interference will lock down the cruise control and the brakes won’t override the system,” George Hilborn, a Birmingham lawyer and one of six lawyers for the Alberto estate, told the Free Press on Tuesday.
Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which have been investigating cases of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, say multiple tests that looked for problems in the electronic engine controls have not yet shown any defect or malfunction.
Earlier this month, Toyota mailed letters to owners of models being recalled asking that they make sure they have the correct driver-side floor mat for their model. If so, it must be fastened to hooks on the floor.
If not, Toyota said owners should remove it. Toyota also warns owners not to flip the floor mat over or place one mat on top of another.
But Alberto’s Camry had no floor mat on the driver’s side, the lawyers said in the lawsuit.
The letter also advised that owners who experience a sudden surge in speed should step on the brake with both feet, but do not pump, shift to neutral or turn the engine off while the car is in motion. For those models with a stop-start engine button, Toyota recommends pushing the button for three seconds.
Getting to the root cause of the problem is a core tenet of the Toyota manufacturing system. Some of the unintended acceleration cases, including several fatal accidents, have involved models from its Lexus luxury brand.
The automaker is committed to finding and fixing other possible contributing factors.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said the type of computer-controlled system in Toyota’s cruise control has multiple backup capabilities that would counteract something like the Alberto lawyers’ alleged radio wave interference.
But Toyota is not saying its request that owners of about 3.8 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles remove or replace driver-side floor mats is the ultimate fix.
“We don’t have a comment on a particular technical fix,” Michels said. “It will be a vehicle-based remedy. When that is developed, we will announce it.”
NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana agreed with Michels that the throttle control system has not caused unwanted acceleration in extensive testing by the agency. NHTSA and Toyota are looking closely at adjustments to the gas pedal itself or to the floor pan beneath it, Aldana said.
CONSUMER REPORTS – How to stop a runaway car: Don’t pump the brakes
View full story and watch the video at consumerreports.org
Despite a massive recall by Toyota of 3.8 million vehicles to address sudden runaway acceleration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is still investigating the exact cause of this problem. They are concerned that the accelerator pedal getting stuck by the floor mat – the purpose of the recall – is not the exclusive cause, according to the New York Times.
Whatever the cause of unintended acceleration, the best defense is to know how to safely regain control of the car should it happen to you. In a previous post, we wrote that putting a car in Neutral might save your life. Our latest tests show that pumping the brakes at full throttle can make a bad problem even worse, as demonstrated this video from ABC News. (See the report “Owners of Toyota cars in rebellion over series of accidents caused by sudden acceleration” at ABCNews.com.)
A NHTSA report released this week points out that some drivers can “react by applying the brake pedal multiple times, depleting the braking system’s (vacuum based) power assist.
Testing theory at the track
We decided to find out just how quickly you could lose power brakes with a stuck throttle. Using our test track and several test vehicles, we accelerated to 60 mph and hit the brakes with the accelerator still floored. Once the brakes were applied, the vehicles began fighting us. The transmissions downshifted trying to maintain speed.
Instead of holding the brakes, we tried pumping them. This test confirmed that pumping the brakes is a really bad strategy. Power brakes rely on engine vacuum to provide additional brake pressure. At full throttle, the engine doesn’t generate any vacuum. So as soon as we removed and reapplied pressure to the brake pedal, the power assist disappeared and stopping the car became hopeless. “There was no way I could push hard enough on the brakes to slow the car down when the engine was fighting me,” said Sr. Automotive Engineer Jake Fisher.
The best strategy to stop a runaway car is to press and hold the brakes and shift into neutral. Modern cars have rev limiters, which will protect the engine from over-revving. Even if your car doesn’t, don’t worry about your engine’s life—worry about your own.
Regulators slam Toyota over ‘no defect’ claim
November 5, 2009
Federal safety regulators have sharply rebuked Toyota Motor Corp. for issuing “inaccurate and misleading” statements asserting that no defect exists in the 3.8 million vehicles it recalled after a Lexus sedan accelerated out of control in San Diego County, killing four people.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a statement Wednesday that the recalled Toyota and Lexus vehicles do have an “underlying defect” that involves the design of the accelerator pedal and the driver’s foot well.
Toyota officials have said they believe the Aug. 28 accident, and other uncontrolled-acceleration incidents across the country, occurred after the gas pedal became entrapped in an improperly installed floor mat.
In formal recall notices being mailed out this week, Toyota asks customers to remove the driver’s-side mats. Separately, the company issued a statement Monday saying its recall letter “confirms that no defect exists in vehicles in which the driver’s floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.”
Toyota also posted a video statement disputing news reports that unintended acceleration may be related to other factors, such as electronic throttle control systems.
That prompted the NHTSA to issue a clarification.
“Safety is the No. 1 priority for NHTSA and this is why officials are working with Toyota to find the right way to fix this very dangerous problem,” the statement said. “This matter is not closed until Toyota has effectively addressed the defect by providing a suitable vehicle-based solution.”
The statement is an unusual public upbraiding of an automaker by the regulatory agency, according to auto safety experts, and threatens to dent Toyota’s credibility just as it seeks to assure customers that its vehicles are safe.
“This is particularly public at a particularly difficult time for Toyota,” said Sean Kane, chief of Safety Research & Strategies, a Rehoboth, Mass., consulting firm. “Toyota was trying to say it has a clean bill of health from NHTSA, when it does not.”
In response to the NHTSA statement, Toyota said it was “never our intention to mislead or provide inaccurate information.” The statement added that it was still developing “vehicle-based” remedies to prevent unintended acceleration events, in which motorists say their vehicles suddenly speed out of control.
Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons suggested last month that these remedies might include changes in the placement of the pedals, or a change to the engine control software in the vehicles’ onboard computers. On Wednesday, however, Lyons declined to comment on any specific fixes.
Toyota announced the voluntary recall Sept. 29, one month after a 2009 Lexus ES 350 sped out of control on a suburban San Diego highway, killing California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, his wife, Cleofe Lastrella, their daughter Mahala and Chris Lastrella, Cleofe’s brother.
The incident drew widespread public attention because the final moments were captured as Chris Lastrella made a frantic 911 call describing Saylor’s futile efforts to stop the car, which crashed through an embankment and burned. The accident and recall prompted Toyota President Akio Toyoda to publicly express remorse.
The recall affects the 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, the 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, the 2005-2010 Tacoma, the 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, the 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350 and the 2006-2010 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350.
The NHTSA has investigated allegations of unwanted acceleration in Toyota vehicles eight times since 2003. Two probes, involving carpet panels in 2004 Toyota Sienna minivans, and floor mats in 2007 Lexus ES350 and 2007 Toyota Camry sedans, led to small recalls.
The six other investigations were closed by the agency with no finding of a defect. In those investigations, however, the NHTSA did find that the Toyota braking system could lose most of its power and effectiveness when the throttle is fully opened and that other aspects of vehicle design, including using push-button ignitions, could add risk in sudden-acceleration events.
In the suburban San Diego case, the NHTSA found that the floor mat in the sedan — a loaner car from an El Cajon dealer — was an all-weather mat intended for use in a Lexus sport utility vehicle. It also found that the design of the Lexus accelerator pedal may have enhanced the risk of its being obstructed by a floor mat.
Toyota has continued to focus on the floor mats alone.
On Monday in a video statement posted online, Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Daly addressed recent suggestions “that there may be other causes of unintended acceleration,” including problems with engine control systems, brake systems or electromagnetic interference.
“There is no evidence to support those theories,” Daly said. “The question of unintended acceleration involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles has been repeatedly and thoroughly investigated by NHTSA, without any finding of defect other than the risk from an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat.”
The response from federal regulators came as no surprise to Joan Claybrook, an auto safety activist who formerly headed the NHTSA.
“The agency never says there is no defect. . . . New information can come to light that there is a defect,” Claybrook said.
Runaway Toyota cases ignored
November 8, 2009
More than 1,000 Toyota and Lexus owners have reported since 2001 that their vehicles suddenly accelerated on their own, in many cases slamming into trees, parked cars and brick walls, among other obstacles, a Times review of federal records has found.
The crashes resulted in at least 19 deaths and scores of injuries over the last decade, records show. Federal regulators say that is far more than any other automaker has experienced.
Owner complaints helped trigger at least eight investigations into sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the last seven years. Toyota Motor Corp. recalled fewer than 85,000 vehicles in response to two of those probes, and the federal agency closed six other cases without finding a defect.
But those investigations systematically excluded or dismissed the majority of complaints by owners that their Toyota and Lexus vehicles had suddenly accelerated, which sharply narrowed the scope of the probes, the Times investigation revealed.
Federal officials eliminated broad categories of sudden-acceleration complaints, including cases in which drivers said they were unable to stop runaway cars using their brakes; incidents of unintended acceleration lasting more than a few seconds; and reports in which owners did not identify the possible causes of the problem.
NHTSA officials used the exclusions as part of their rationale to close at least five of the investigations without finding any defect, because — with fewer incidents to consider — the agency concluded there were not enough reported problems to warrant further inquiry. In a 2003 Lexus probe, for example, the agency threw out all but one of 37 customer complaints cited in a defect petition. It then halted further investigation, saying it “found no data indicating the existence of a defect trend.”
Meanwhile, fatal crashes involving Toyota vehicles continued to mount.
In a written statement, the NHTSA said its records show that a total of 15 people died in crashes related to possible sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles from the 2002 model year and newer, compared with 11 such deaths in vehicles made by all other automakers.
The Times located federal and other records of 19 fatalities involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles from the same model years in which sudden or unintended acceleration may have been a factor, as well as more than 1,000 reports by owners that their vehicles had suddenly accelerated. Independent safety expert Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies, said he has identified nearly 2,000 sudden-acceleration cases for Toyota vehicles built since 2001.
Other experts say the numbers may be far higher, pointing to a 2007 NHTSA survey of 600 Lexus owners that found 10% complained they had experienced sudden acceleration.
Most sudden accelerations did not result in a crash, but there were notable exceptions. Bulent Ezal, a retired engineer, plunged 70 feet off a Pismo Beach cliff into the Pacific Ocean surf. He was hospitalized with minor injuries, but his wife of 46 years was killed.
“By the time they pulled me out, the tide was about to cover the car,” Ezal said.
He said his 2005 Camry had suddenly accelerated in a parking lot.
In its research, The Times examined thousands of federal defect investigation records, complaints filed with NHTSA by Toyota and Lexus owners, lawsuits against the company, and reports by independent safety experts and local police agencies.
Toyota has been under a spotlight since Aug. 28, when off-duty California Highway Patrolman Mark Saylor and three members of his family died in a Lexus ES 350 that accelerated to more than 100 mph and crashed in San Diego County.
Toyota has blamed the Saylor crash on an incorrectly installed floor mat that jammed the accelerator pedal. The company announced a recall of 3.8 million vehicles in September and is designing a fix aimed at preventing sudden acceleration caused by floor mats.
The recall affects the following Toyota models: the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2004-2009 Prius, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2005-2010 Tacoma and the 2007-2010 Tundra, as well as the 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350 and the 2006-2010 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350.
Last week, the NHTSA called the issue a “very dangerous problem” and said the remedy remains to be determined.
The agency declined a request for interviews, but issued a statement defending its past actions, saying its officials have continuously monitored Toyota vehicles for potential defects and that many of the reports of sudden acceleration involved only momentary surges of engine power that did not result in any loss of vehicle control.
“NHTSA takes every allegation of safety problems seriously and that is why we read every consumer complaint within one business day of its receipt,” the agency said. “In the case of complaints about sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles NHTSA moved very quickly to respond to them.”
Toyota Motor Corp. defended its Toyota and Lexus vehicles and the validity of prior investigations.
“Over the past six years, NHTSA has undertaken several exhaustive reviews of allegations of unintended acceleration on Toyota and Lexus vehicles. In each case, the agency closed the investigation without finding any electronic engine control system malfunction to be the cause of unintended acceleration,” the company said in a statement.
Whatever the cause, Toyota and Lexus owners have grappled with the dangerous consequences.
* Jean Bookout awoke in an Oklahoma hospital a month after a crash in her 2005 Camry.
She said the car sped out of control on a freeway, then smashed into an embankment after she swerved it onto an exit ramp, leaving behind long skid marks from attempts to stop the vehicle with her brakes and emergency brake.
Bookout sustained permanent memory loss, and her best friend died.
“I did everything I could to stop the car,” she said Tuesday.
* Nancy Bernstein, a vice president for a Long Beach community garden and former science teacher, said she was taken on an 8-mile high-speed ride by her 2007 Prius while she was following her husband in a group bicycle tour in Wisconsin. She said her Prius accelerated from 45 mph to 75 mph on a winding, two-lane highway crowded with 100 cyclists.
“I was sure I was going to kill someone on a bicycle or myself,” she recalled. “I stood on the brakes with both feet. All of a sudden, I see fire. I thought, sure, my brakes are on fire. I thought about maybe trying to sideswipe a tree to slow down.”
Eventually she was able to stop at the bottom of a hill, using her brakes and emergency brake. A local resident rushed out with a fire extinguisher.
* Dr. David. W. Smith, an emergency room physician from San Dimas, has yet to receive a satisfactory answer from Toyota about his Lexus GS 300. Smith said he was driving with his cruise control in Central California on Highway 99 last year, not touching the accelerator, when suddenly the vehicle accelerated to 100 mph.
The brakes did not release the cruise control or slow down the vehicle, Smith recalled. Finally, he shifted into neutral and shut off the engine. “I am sure it is the cruise control,” he said. “I haven’t used it since.”
In reviewing consumer complaints during its investigations, the NHTSA relied on established “positions” that defined how the agency viewed the causes of sudden acceleration. Cases in which consumers alleged that the brakes did not stop a car were discarded, for example, because the agency’s official position was that a braking system would always overcome an engine and stop a car. The decision was laid out in a March 2004 memorandum.
When asked to submit its own complaint data to the NHTSA, Toyota eliminated reports claiming that sudden acceleration occurred for “a long duration,” or more than a few seconds. Elsewhere, the company said a fail-safe in its throttle system makes such an event impossible.
NHTSA officials acknowledged in a statement that the exclusions were made, but defended the practice.
“While some vehicles may be excluded from the scope of an investigation into a specific defect allegation, all are continuously reviewed, along with other relevant information, in order to identify other emerging issues of concern,” the statement said.
A reduced pool of reports created the appearance that the problem was much smaller than the total number of complaints suggested, making a broader vehicle recall seem less necessary, critics say.
“NHTSA has ways of pigeonholing reports, categorizing them as brake failure rather than sudden acceleration,” said attorney Edgar Heiskell of Charleston, W.Va., who is suing Toyota over a fatal crash in Flint, Mich. “By excluding these braking and long-duration events, they have taken 80% of the cases off the table.”
In 2004, the NHTSA began a probe into a defect petition filed by Carol J. Mathews, a registered nurse who was then director of health services for the Montgomery County, Md., school system. Matthews reported that she had her foot on the brake of her 2002 Lexus ES when it took off and hit a tree.
In its subsequent investigation, the NHTSA and Toyota both winnowed down other reports of sudden acceleration involving 2002 and 2003 Lexus ES and Camry models.
When the agency asked Toyota to disgorge all of the reports it knew about, the company eliminated an unknown number in five broad categories, including cases in which drivers said they were unable to control a runaway engine by applying the brakes.
In closing the probe, federal investigators said only 20 cases were considered relevant.
But The Times’ examination of consumer complaints and a sampling of reports from Toyota dealers found more than 400 reports of sudden acceleration involving those models. And federal records show that the NHTSA knew about 260 of those cases and another 114 cases identified by Toyota.
As for its position that brakes can always overcome a vehicle’s engine, the safety agency and Toyota now acknowledge that a braking system cannot always counter a wide-open throttle, as is the case in sudden acceleration.
The NHTSA began investigating the problem of sudden acceleration in the mid-1980s, after a flood of complaints about the Audi 5000. One outgrowth of the subsequent investigation was the NHTSA view that acceleration events at high speed are a different issue than events at low speed.
In 2005, for example, Jordan Ziprin of Phoenix, who had experienced a minor accident he blamed on sudden acceleration, filed a defect petition with the NHTSA that included nearly 1,200 owner complaints about Toyota vehicles. The automaker argued that the majority should be eliminated because they dealt “with two completely different issues.”
When owners said the “vehicle unintentionally or suddenly ‘accelerated,’ ” Toyota claimed that represented a different issue than when they said “the vehicle ‘surged’ or ‘lurched.’ ” The NHTSA ultimately went a step further, eliminating every single complaint except Ziprin’s, finding them to have “ambiguous significance.”
The agency also has thrown out evidence for other reasons. In 2008, the NHTSA opened a probe of the Toyota Tacoma after a consumer found that the truck had accumulated 32 times as many sudden-acceleration complaints as any other pickup. But Toyota at the time said the complaints stemmed from “media and Internet exposure.” The NHTSA closed the case without a finding after it whittled down a list of more than 450 complaints to just 62.
“To this day I still can’t find evidence online of a flood of media exposure,” said William Kronholm, the Helena, Mont., man who said he requested the investigation after he experienced two acceleration events in his 2006 Tacoma. “They never dealt with the question I presented in any real way.”
The NHTSA has declined to reconsider previous investigations, even in the face of new evidence.
In March, Jeffrey Pepski of Plymouth, Minn., formally requested that the NHTSA reopen two closed investigations into Toyota and Lexus vehicles for the acceleration problem, arguing in part that 10 other motorists had experienced sudden acceleration that could not be explained by floor mats.
The NHTSA looked at the 10 cases and tossed them out. The agency’s way of looking at them sharply contrasted with the drivers’ original accounts.
In one case, the driver of a 2007 Lexus ES 350 reported that the sedan accelerated into a building, bounced backward, struck another vehicle and ended up on top of a snowbank.
But federal officials described the same case as a “single incident of alleged engine surge while parking vehicle. No trouble found by dealer.”
The NHTSA denied Pepski’s petition last week, arguing that further study was “not warranted.”
Owners of Toyota Cars in Rebellion Over Series of Accidents Caused by Sudden Acceleration
View the Full Story at ABCNews.go.com
November 4, 2009
ABC News investigation finds over 200 accidents; Toyota owners want answers.
Refusing to accept the explanation of Toyota and the federal government, hundreds Toyota owners are in rebellion after a series of accidents caused by what they call “runaway cars.”
Safety analysts found an estimated 2000 cases in which owners of Toyota cars including Camry, Prius and Lexus, reported that their cars surged without warning up to speeds of 100 miles per hour.
Toyota says the incidents are caused by floor mats becoming stuck under gas pedals, but owners say that’s not what happened to them.
Some Toyota Owners Point to Problem Other than Floor Mats
Many Toyota owners remain convinced that an electronic problem is to blame.
Bulent Ezal was driving with his wife of 46 years in their Toyota Camry in central California, when he says it suddenly took off. The car plunged over a 100 foot cliff into the Pacific ocean, and while he survived, his wife did not.
“All of a sudden the car surged with force and I was thrown back to the seat,” Ezal said. The last thing he heard was his wife screaming before he blacked out. Toyota says the accident was caused by Ezal mistakenly pushing the gas pedal, but Ezal is adamant that his foot was “absolutely, positively on the brake.”
There have been other deaths as well, including a fatal accident near San Diego this August that took the lives of California Highway patrol officer Mark Saylor, his wife, daughter and brother-in-law.
The Lexus they were driving, borrowed from a dealer, raced out of control at 100 miles an hour before hitting another vehicle, crashing into an embankment and bursting into flames.
Right before the crash, Saylor’s brother-in-law called 911 from the backseat of the vehicle and said urgently, “Our accelerator is stuck. We’re in trouble…There’s no brakes.”
Toyota said the problem was the wrong-sized, all-weather rubber floor mat in the car which was caught and held down the gas pedal. The company ordered a huge floor mat recall for 3.8 million cars.
In Tokyo, the president of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, formally apologized, saying, “Four precious lives have been lost. I offer my deepest condolences.”
But many Toyota owners remained unconvinced, including Elizabeth James in Denver, CO and her husband Ted. They organized a YouTube campaign accusing Toyota of gross negligence and cover-up and are demanding answers.
***Toyota Recall Information***
Follow the above link for information regarding Toyota’s massive recall of 3.8 million vehicles for allegedly defective floor mats.
Toyota’s runaway-car worries may not stop at floor mats
A fatal accident in San Diego raises the question: Might a vehicle’s complex electronic features make it hard for drivers to react quickly when accelerating out of control?
October 18, 2009
View the full story at www.latimes.com
The 2009 Lexus ES 350 shot through suburban San Diego like a runaway missile, weaving at 120 miles an hour through rush hour freeway traffic as flames flashed from under the car.
At the wheel, veteran California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor desperately tried to control the 272-horsepower engine that was roaring at full throttle as his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law were gripped by fear.
“We’re in trouble. . . . There’s no brakes,” Saylor’s brother-in-law Chris Lastrella told a police dispatcher over a cellphone. Moments later, frantic shrieks filled the car as it slammed into another vehicle and then careened into a dirt embankment, killing all four aboard.
The tragedy Aug. 28 was at least the fifth fatal crash in the U.S. over the last two years involving runaway Toyota and Lexus vehicles made by Toyota Motor Corp. It is also among hundreds of incidents of sudden acceleration involving the company’s vehicles that have been reported to Toyota or the federal government, according to an examination of public records by The Times.
Toyota has blamed the incidents — apart from those caused by driver error — on its floor mats, asserting that if they are improperly installed they can jam open the accelerator pedal. A month after the Saylor crash, Toyota issued its biggest recall in company history, affecting 3.8 million vehicles in model years as far back as 2004. But auto safety experts believe there may be a bigger problem with Toyota vehicles than simply the floor mats.
The Saylor crash and others like it across the country, they say, point to a troubling possibility: that Toyota’s ignition, transmission and braking systems may make it difficult for drivers to combat sudden or unintended accelerations and safely recover, regardless of their cause.
Toyota is not the only car company to be hit with reports of sudden acceleration, but the San Diego fatality, the massive recall that came in its wake and Toyota’s position as the world’s largest automaker have focused intense scrutiny on the company by federal safety regulators and others.
“This is Toyota’s Firestone,” said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a Rehoboth, Mass., auto safety consulting firm. He was referring to the public relations disaster that hit Bridgestone/Firestone almost 10 years ago over defective tires that caused a series of fatal accidents.
“Right now,” Kane said, “when you say sudden acceleration, Toyota is it.”
In addition to Saylor and Lastrella, the San Diego crash killed Saylor’s wife, Cleofe Lastrella, and their only child, 13-year-old daughter Mahala.
Signaling how seriously the company takes the incident, Toyota President Akio Toyoda made an apology this month while meeting with the Japanese news media.
“Customers bought our cars because they thought they were the safest,” he said. “But now we have given them cause for grave concern. I can’t begin to express my remorse.”
One remedy being considered by Toyota implicitly acknowledges what critics have been saying for almost 10 years: that the company’s highly computerized engine control system lacks a fail-safe mechanism that can quickly extinguish sudden acceleration events, whether they are caused by floor mats, driver errors or even unknown defects in the electronic control system, as alleged in some lawsuits.
Reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles has resulted in nine federal inquiries and investigations since 2000, two of which determined that there were improperly positioned floor mats. Another found a loose part in Sienna minivans, and yet another probe remains open. The rest were dismissed with no findings of equipment problems.
In most Toyota vehicles, the floor mats are held in place by two clips, which can come loose. Toyota offers a standard carpeted floor mat and an optional rubber version. Both mats have a cutout around the accelerator pedal. The vehicle driven by Saylor had a rubber floor mat, but Toyota said it was for a different model of Lexus.
Since the San Diego crash, Toyota has urged all its customers to remove their floor mats as an interim fix. But longer term, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said, the company is examining significant design changes.
One possible remedy is to redesign the accelerator pedal to make it harder to get caught by a floor mat, he said. Another potential fix, he said, involves reprogramming the engine’s computer to automatically cut power when a driver brakes while the gas pedal is depressed.
Such fail-safes are needed, auto experts say, because sudden acceleration can cause drivers to panic, diminishing their ability to take swift action — such as shutting off the engine or shifting into neutral.
If anybody should have known how to stop an out-of-control car, it was Saylor, who was trained in emergency and high-speed driving as a 19-year CHP veteran. But a close look at the Lexus ES 350 raises questions about whether the car’s very design may have compromised Saylor’s skills.
One obvious line of defense is to simply shut off the engine, a step that may not be intuitive on the ES 350. The car has a push-button start system, activated by the combination of a wireless electronic fob carried by the driver and a button on the dashboard.
But once the vehicle is moving, the engine will not shut off unless the button is held down for a full three seconds — a period of time in which Saylor’s car would have traveled 528 feet. A driver may push the button repeatedly, not knowing it requires a three-second hold.
“When you are dealing with an emergency, you can’t wait three seconds for the car to respond at 120 miles an hour,” said Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety.
The ES 350 Saylor was driving that day was a loaner provided to him by Bob Baker Lexus when he took his family’s Lexus in for servicing. It’s unclear whether Saylor’s own car had the same feature or whether he was aware of the shutdown procedure. Bob Baker Lexus did not return calls.
That procedure is explained deep in the owners manual. In a text box labeled “! Caution,” Toyota tells owners, “Do not touch the ‘power’ switch while driving.” But under the warning it adds, “If you have to make an emergency stop, press and hold the ‘power’ switch for more than three seconds.”
Lyons, the Toyota spokesman, said: “I think the text is valid. What I’d prefer it to say is to explain that you’ll lose power assist [for] brakes and steering if you do so.”
The shutdown procedure reflects a larger problem: As auto manufacturers adopt increasingly complex electronic features, it becomes more difficult to explain how they work, said Paul Green, a human factors expert at the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute. A study by the institute found that in some cases, owners manuals would have to run up to 1,000 pages to fully disclose everything.
“In the past, systems were pretty simple,” Green said. “You put a key in the lock and turn it. Now we have a fob with functionality.”
The other common defense tactic advised by experts is to simply shift a runaway vehicle into neutral. But the ES 350 is equipped with an automatic transmission that can mimic manual shifting, and its shift lever on the console has a series of gates and detents that allow a driver to select any of at least four forward gears.
The arrangement of those gear selections could make it difficult to shift from a forward gear directly into neutral in a panic situation, Toyota spokesman Lyons acknowledged.
“I think it’s possible to get the shifter confused, but I can’t be sure that’s what happened” in San Diego, Lyons said. “You’d be surprised how many people around here [Toyota] don’t know what the neutral position is for.”
The most obvious impulse for any driver experiencing sudden acceleration is to apply the brakes. But when an engine goes to full throttle and is speeding at 120 mph, the brake might not stop the car.
The ES 350 and most other modern vehicles are equipped with power-assisted brakes, which operate by drawing vacuum power from the engine. But when an engine opens to full throttle, the vacuum drops, and after one or two pumps of the brake pedal the power assist feature disappears.
As a result, a driver would have to apply enormous pressure to the brake pedal to stop the car, and if the throttle was wide open might not be able to stop it at all, safety experts say.
“I don’t think you can stop a car going 120 mph and an engine at full throttle without power assist,” said Ditlow, the safety center director.
Indeed, a 2007 study by federal highway safety officials showed that braking distance and force on a Lexus ES 350 increased fivefold when the throttle was wide open. And evidence introduced in sudden acceleration trials suggests that it can take up to 225 pounds of pressure on a brake pedal to arrest a runaway vehicle, far more than most drivers can muster from a seated position, said Edgar “Hike” Heiskell, a Charleston, W.Va., attorney who is suing Toyota over a fatal acceleration accident in Flint, Mich.
Lyons acknowledged that the vacuum can be depleted when an engine throttle is wide open, leaving the drivers without power-assisted brakes.
“There’s a [federal] standard where you have to be able to stop the car without power-assisted brakes, but obviously I don’t think it includes situations where the throttle is wide open,” he added.
Drivers in other crashes also found it difficult to rein in a runaway Toyota. Guadalupe Gomez of Redwood City said he was held hostage for 20 miles on a Bay Area freeway by a 2007Camry traveling more than 100 mph.
Gomez was unable to turn off the engine or shift into neutral and then burned out his brakes before slamming into another car and killing that driver, said attorney Louis Franecke, who represented that victim’s family.
The San Diego crash is still under investigation by the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the CHP; until the probe is complete, neither agency is commenting.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, says it has an open investigation into sudden acceleration events involving Toyota vehicles.
Sudden-acceleration cause proves divisive
Variables can make diagnosis difficult
By John Wilkens
Union-Tribune Staff Writer
September 30, 2009
View the full story at www3.signonsandiego.com
Runaway-car incidents like the one that killed four members of a family in Santee last month happen often enough that they have their own acronym in vehicle-safety circles: SUA.
It stands for “sudden, unintended acceleration,” a clinical phrase that’s descriptive enough to hint at the terror that comes when a car speeds up seemingly all on its own.
It’s also neutral enough to sidestep the question that has vexed car owners, makers and regulators for nearly 30 years: Driver error or vehicle defect?
“It’s an extraordinarily difficult problem to pinpoint because in every case, there are so many variables,” said Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a Massachusetts consulting firm that analyzes vehicle crashes.
Records from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show about 24,000 consumer complaints regarding SUA in the past 10 years, involving almost every major manufacturer.
In response, the agency has done more than 20 investigations in that period and automakers have ordered more than 30 recalls — for defects in throttle cables, accelerator pedals, cruise controls and, as Toyota announced yesterday, floor mats.
A faulty all-weather floor mat is being looked at as a possible cause in the Aug. 28 crash on state Route 125 that killed Mark Saylor, 45, the driver and a veteran California Highway Patrol officer; his wife, Cleofe, also 45; their daughter, Mahala, 13; and Cleofe’s brother, Chris Lastrella, 38.
They were riding in a 2009 Lexus ES 350, a loaner from a dealership. The ES 350 has a history of floor-mat problems.
Two years ago, after a series of SUA incidents involving that model and its sister car, the Camry, federal investigators said the grooved, rubber mats could slide under the gas pedal and jam it if not installed properly. Toyota recalled the mats and redesigned them.
But not all of the cars in those incidents had all-weather mats. And in some incidents where there were mats, the drivers stated that the mats weren’t interfering with the stuck accelerator.
So questions linger. That has been true of SUA cases since they first gained national prominence in the 1980s.
Back then, hundreds of Audi 5000 drivers reported cars that were lurching forward or backward on their own. There were dozens of injuries and a handful of deaths.
Audi said drivers probably were hitting the gas when they meant to be on the brake, and it issued several recalls to reposition the pedals. After “60 Minutes” reported on the issue, Audi sales plummeted in the United States.
Other automakers — Nissan, Acura, Honda, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes — had their own SUA problems around the same time, and federal investigators launched several probes.
In 1989, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a report on SUA, concluding that while there were occasional mechanical breakdowns, most of the cases were caused by drivers pushing the gas instead of the brake.
They recommended that automakers install shift locks, which force drivers to put a foot on the brake before taking the car out of park. Cars routinely have that feature now.
But the report didn’t end the controversy.
In the 1990s, reports mounted of a different kind of SUA — no longer just cars taking off when shifted out of park, but also vehicles speeding up when already in motion on streets and freeways.
Clarence Ditlow, longtime executive director of the advocacy group Center for Auto Safety, said he believes the increased use of electronic controls in cars has played a role.
He co-wrote a book in 2003, “Sudden Acceleration: The Myth of Driver Error,” that said random events of electromagnetic interference could trick the fuel system and the cruise control into opening up the throttle.
That idea is at the center of the current debate about SUA.
Wade Newton, spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a public-policy advocacy group representing 11 major carmakers, said they don’t have a collective statement on SUA.
“We’re always pursuing making vehicles as safe as possible in every respect,” Newton said.
Individual manufacturers acknowledge occasional glitches, but they say the designs of their cars are solid and the systems safe and reliable. They say that in the vast majority of SUA cases, when the cars are checked by mechanics, no defects in the speed controls are found.
“Various studies by NHTSA, those of other governmental safety agencies, and reviews by the automobile industry have consistently led to the conclusion that the primary cause of alleged unintended sudden acceleration events is pedal misapplication,” Ford said in a written statement three years ago, after it lost an SUA case in South Carolina.
The jury ruled that the electronic cruise-control system on a 1995 Ford Explorer was faulty and awarded $15 million to a 17-year-old girl left paralyzed after a rollover accident.
Ford, which had argued that the accident was caused by driver error, said “a few plaintiffs’ attorneys continue to promote the phenomenon of alleged sudden acceleration.”
One of those plaintiffs’ lawyers, Tom Murray, has four rooms filled with SUA documents in his office in Sandusky, Ohio. He has a Web site, suddenacceleration.com.
“The car companies have been peddling the idea that there is no such thing as SUA and shifting the blame onto drivers for 30 years,” Murray said. “It’s unconscionable.”
Murray said it’s not surprising that investigators are unable to replicate sudden-acceleration incidents in specific cars.
“It’s just like trying to find out after the fact why your computer at home freezes sometimes,” he said. “You could bring in the best computer experts in the country and they couldn’t do it.”
With an estimated 250 million passenger vehicles in America, most people will never have a problem with SUA, Murray said. “The odds are in your favor. But even if it’s one in a million, that’s not much comfort if you’re the one, like that family out in Santee.”
The accident occurred shortly after Saylor dropped off his car for service at Bob Baker Lexus El Cajon and picked up the loaner. Lastrella, one of the passengers, called 911 and said the Lexus was going 120 mph with the accelerator stuck and the brakes unable to slow the car.
On Route 125, at the T-intersection with Mission Gorge Road, the car clipped a Ford Explorer, smashed through a picket fence, hit an embankment and went airborne. It rolled several times and burst into flames.
Brian Lyons, a spokesman for Toyota, which makes the Lexus, said federal investigators who have joined local authorities in examining the crash believe the car had the wrong-size floor mat and that it could have interfered with the gas pedal.
Lyons said the mat was a couple of inches longer than the one that belonged in the car.
The investigation, like the underlying controversy about SUA, is continuing.
John Wilkens: (619) 293-2236;