What Grinds My Gears about the Recent Developments in Toyota's Unintended Acceleration-Saga

A few things happened in the past 24 hours that grind my gears on the subject of Toyota Motor Corp.’s “unintended acceleration” saga. The first thing that ticked me off were some smart-ass headlines for the findings of NHTSA-NASA study from the same sources that were bashing the Japanese company with Daily Mirror-like titles a little over a year ago. That’s something like looking at the mirror and saying who’s the dummy now… No need for further explanations on that.

The other is that, Toyota, its PR associates and even some news sites / blogs are focusing on the software-related findings and either leaving outside or playing down the two mechanical defects – a.k.a. the “sticking” accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats. These defects lead to some 8 million vehicles being recalled in the United States alone.

Yes, the study by NHTSA and NASA found no evidence for electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration, but that doesn’t mean Toyota is innocent for the rest of the sudden acceleration-related issues nor for neglecting to notify the government agency of the sticky pedal defect for more than four months after the company found out about it.

By John Halas

[From NHTSA]

Timeline of Major Events

  • March 29, 2007: NHTSA opens a preliminary investigation into pedal entrapment on MY’07 Lexus ES350 models based on five consumer complaints alleging three crashes and seven injuries. The all weather floor mat is identified as the possible cause of these incidents.
  • July 26, 2007: A fatal crash occurs in San Jose, CA involving a ‘07 Camry in which the driver suffers serious injuries and the driver of the struck vehicle is killed. The incident also appears to have been caused by a pedal trapped by an all weather floor mat.
  • September 13, 2007: After determining the fatal San Jose crash was caused by floor mat entrapment, NHTSA tells Toyota a recall is necessary.
  • September 26, 2007: Toyota recalls 55,000 floor mats in ’07 and ‘08 Camrys and ES350s.
  • August 28, 2009: A fatal crash occurs in Santee, CA, involving a loaner ’09 ES350. The vehicle is found to have an all weather floor mat from another Lexus vehicle. Investigators find that the vehicle’s previous driver had reported an entrapment incident to the dealership.
  • September 25, 2009: NHTSA meets with Toyota and tells the company that the floor mat recall is insufficient and the agency expects a recall for the defect in pedal design. Three days later, Toyota tells NHTSA the company will recall the gas pedals.
  • October 5, 2009: Toyota recalls 3.8 million vehicles for pedal entrapment by floor mat and sends an interim letter to consumers telling them to remove floor mats. The defect remedy involves gas pedal reconfiguration, floor pan/carpeting revisions, and ‘brake pedal override’ software for vehicles with keyless ignition.
  • December 15, 2009: NHTSA officials meet with Toyota executives in Japan to explain NHTSA’s defect recall process and underscore Toyota’s obligations under U.S. law to find and report defects promptly. Toyota commits to making improvements.
  • January 16, 2010: Toyota informs NHTSA that certain CTS-brand pedals may have a dangerous ‘sticking’ defect. NHTSA calls an in-person meeting on January 19.
  • January 19, 2010: At the meeting, Toyota provides field reports on sticky pedal incidents, and NHTSA tells Toyota the agency expects prompt action. Toyota informs NHTSA several hours later that the company will issue a recall.
  • January 21, 2010: Toyota recalls 2.3 million vehicles for the sticky pedal defect.
  • January 27, 2010: At NHTSA’s urging, Toyota expands its pedal entrapment recall to cover an additional 1.1 million vehicles.
  • February 16, 2010: NHTSA launches an official probe into the timeliness and scope of the pedal entrapment and sticky pedal Toyota recalls.
  • March 30, 2010: At the request of Congress, the U.S. DOT announces two studies into unintended acceleration. One looks at possible electronics causes for unintended acceleration in Toyotas; the other examines unintended acceleration and the safety of vehicle electronics across the automotive industry.
  • April 5, 2010: NHTSA demands the maximum, $16.375 million, civil penalty on Toyota for its failure to notify the agency of the sticky pedal defect for more than four months after discovering it. Auto manufacturers are legally obligated to notify NHTSA within five business days of determining that a safety defect exists. Toyota pays the full fine on April 19.
  • December 20, 2010: Toyota agrees to pay the maximum $16.375 million civil penalty as the result of another NHTSA investigation into whether their recall of 5.5 million vehicles for pedal entrapment was conducted in a timely manner.
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