Recall Information

Investigators Fault Driver Mistakes for Most of Unintended Acceleration; Pedals, Mats Contributed

By Mike Ramsey, Josh Mitchell and Chester Dawson
Wall Street Journal

Federal highway safety officials on Tuesday absolved the electronics in Toyota Motor Corp.vehicles for unintended acceleration, and said driver error was to blame for most of  the incidents.

The findings of a 10-month-long study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration identified three main causes for sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus models. Two of them, sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats that trapped the throttle in an open position were the subject of a series of Toyota recalls. The third and most common problem was drivers hitting the gas when they thought they were hitting the brake, which the NHTSA called "pedal misapplication."
The report came as Toyota said its profit fell 39% in the December-ended quarter, as the yen's persistent strength and a slip in sales in Japan weighed on its bottom line. Its sales have been stung by the recalls, and continued worries about its vehicles have Toyota fighting to maintain its title as the world's largest car maker by unit sales.
At a Congressional hearing last year, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had suggested that consumers should stop driving their Toyotas. On Tuesday, he said: "We feel that Toyotas are safe to drive."  In addition to Toyota, the report is a boon for the rest of the auto industry, because it could blunt efforts by plaintiffs' lawyers, safety advocates and lawmakers to attack the safety of electronic systems widely used in the auto industry.

Electronically controlled throttle, braking, steering, safety and vehicle stability systems are critical to modern vehicles—especially hybrid and electric cars. Auto makers have increasingly used computer-controlled electronic systems to replace mechanical connections to save weight, improve fuel economy and enable advanced safety systems such as automatic braking.

"It does appear that this study, which was conducted by America's top scientists and engineers, should reassure the driving public that many of the more 'mediagenic' claims had no merit," said Wade Newton, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade group representing most of the major auto makers in the U.S. market. "We're pleased that this detailed report can be reassuring to consumers, and is similar to the extensive internal research and testing auto makers already do."

The exhaustive study should help Toyota fend off hundreds of lawsuits under litigation in federal court that blame unintended acceleration for accidents and could improve the company's quality image.

But critics contend the report didn't go far enough.

"Right now, we don't have any explanation for many of the problems, so what good did the investigation do?" said Sean Kane, whose  Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. led much of the early research into electronics as a potential cause of problems.

 Joan Claybrook, the president emeritus for Public Citizen, a consumer safety group that has been critical of Toyota, said the results of the government study weren't convincing.

"I think it's a failure of evaluation because there are so many cases where there was no problem with the floormat and it was clear the vehicle had runaway on its own," said Ms. Claybrook, also a former NHTSA secretary. "It has to be some vehicle related malfunction. The failure to find that is a failure of analysis."

But government officials said the evidence points to mechanical and driver problems. "Toyota's problems were mechanical, not electronic," Mr. LaHood said Tuesday.

NASA's lead engineer, Michael Kirsch, said an electronics failure couldn't be entirely ruled out. But it would be incredibly unlikely, he said, because it would require the simultaneous failure of two different systems, and would have left evidence in a car's computer system.

A lengthy investigation by the federal government into last year's Toyota recalls found that engine electronics played no role in incidents of sudden, unintended acceleration of its cars. Joe White has details.

"We hope this important study will help put to rest unsupported speculation about Toyota's [electronic throttle control system], which is well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, uncommanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur," said Steve St. Angelo, the U.S. quality chief for Toyota.

In the few cases of prolonged, uncontrolled acceleration, NHTSA said slipping floor mats that trapped the gas pedal were likely the cause.

The agency had already fined Toyota $49 million for being slow to report known problems related other mechanical problems, including floor mats and sticky pedals.

The NASA/NHTSA study highlighted a delicate issue for auto makers and regulators: The vast majority of sudden acceleration incidents studied were determined to be the result of driver mistakes. The NHTSA said it will continue to study measures aimed at reducing the risks of unintended acceleration caused by drivers mistaking one pedal for another.

David Strickland, NHTSA's chief, said the agency is considering whether to require advanced  technology, including brake-override systems and "black box" event-data recorders, in all passenger cars without legislative order.

NHTSA said it will also evaluate how to make cars with so-called keyless entry, or push-button start systems, easier to turn off, and will study the design of accelerator and brake pedals to learn whether redesigning pedals will make mistakes less common.

The auto industry in December fended off proposed House legislation that would have added a host of new vehicle-safety requirements that were born out of Toyota's problems.

The news came the same day the Toyota City, Japan-based company reported lower profit than a year ago as sales in Japan slipped and the yen's strength cut its profits on exports.

It posted a profit of 93.63 billion yen ($1.14 billion) in the three months ended Dec. 30, down from 153.22 billion yen in the same period a year earlier.

However, the Japanese car maker was upbeat about its outlook for its full fiscal year ending in March, raising its profit projection to 490 billion yen from 350 billion yen owing to strong overseas sales and extensive cost-cutting.

"The fact that we were able to raise our forecast indicates that our cost-cutting efforts have exceeded our own expectations," Toyota senior managing director Takahiko Ijichi said. "We think that shows we're back on the road to recovery."

Toyota's incentive spending rose by a third in 2010, according to research website, and the auto maker still lost two percentage points of U.S. market share.

It held the top spot for sales direct to consumers.

"I was leaning toward the Honda Accord," said Abdul Farukhi, 27, who bought a new Camry in late December. "It looked just as good as the Camry and didn't have this baggage with the accelerator, and I was a little concerned about the resale value down the road. But the incentives were just too good on the Camry and that tipped it in their favor,"

Toyota executives have predicted that it will regain lost market share in the U.S. this year with a host of new products, including a redesigned Camry and RAV4, which are two of its most popular models.

Toyota has raised its full-year profit outlook for three straight quarters, from an initial estimate of 310 billion yen in May. The revised number for the year ending in March is still far below that of rival Honda Motor Co., which expects a 530 billion yen profit for this fiscal year, but above that of Nissan Motor Co.'s 270 billion yen estimate. Nissan reports its latest earnings on Wednesday.

The upward revision is the latest indication that the strong local currency isn't as big a threat to profitability as initially feared by Japan's auto industry. A stronger yen eats into profits Japanese car makers earn overseas when repatriated and makes made-in-Japan vehicles less price-competitive.

Release of Toyota Documents Blocked, Ex-Official Says

As reported by the Wall Street Journal

DETROIT-Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation have at least temporarily blocked the release of findings by auto-safety regulators that could favor Toyota Motor Corp. in some crashes related to unintended acceleration, according to a recently retired agency official.

George Person, who retired July 3 after 27 years at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said in an interview that the decision to not go public with the data for now was made over the objections of some officials at NHTSA.

"The information was compiled. The report was finished and submitted," Mr. Person said. "When I asked why it hadn't been published, I was told that the secretary's office didn't want to release it," he added, referring to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

A Transportation Department spokeswoman, Olivia Alair, said NHTSA is still reviewing data from the Toyota vehicles the agency is examining. "Its review is not yet complete. The investigation remains ongoing," she said.

A Toyota spokesman declined to comment. A NHTSA spokeswoman did not respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment.

At the time of his retirement, Mr. Person, 67 years old, was chief of NHTSA's Recall Management Division, which is part of the agency's Office of Defects Investigation. He said he was briefed on the agency's probe into the causes of accidents in which drivers said Toyota vehicles suddenly accelerated on their own, and said he offered his input on the matter to investigators.

Ms. Alair said Mr. Person "was not involved in any aspect of the ongoing investigation into unintended acceleration."

Mr. Person said he retired in good standing with the agency. Ms. Alair said she could not comment on personnel matters.

Mr. Person's comments follow a July 14 story in The Wall Street Journal that said NHTSA had accumulated data suggesting many sudden-acceleration incidents were the result of drivers stepping on the gas when they thought they were hitting the brakes.

Earlier this year, Toyota recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles globally for defects related to sudden acceleration, and paid a $16.4 million fine for failing to report safety issues promptly.

NHTSA came under criticism by Congress and auto-safety advocates, who accused the agency of being too cozy with auto makers in recall investigations.

Toyota has said its investigations show that sudden-acceleration problems were caused by floor mats that could pin down the gas pedals of its cars. It also found some gas pedals could get stuck briefly in an open position.

Some members of Congress and auto-safety advocates have suspected electrical glitches could also be a cause.

Since March, the agency has examined 40 Toyota vehicles where unintended acceleration was cited as the cause of an accident, Mr. Person said. NHTSA determined 23 of the vehicles had accelerated suddenly, Mr. Person said.

In all 23, he added, the vehicles' electronic data recorders or black boxes showed the car's throttle was wide open and the brake was not depressed at the moment of impact, suggesting the drivers mistakenly stepped on the gas pedal instead of the brake, Mr. Person said.

"The agency has for too long ignored what I believe is the root cause of these unintended acceleration cases," he said. "It's driver error. It's pedal misapplication and that's what this data shows."

Mr. Person said he believes Transportation Department officials are "sitting on" this data because it could revive criticism that NHTSA is too close to the auto maker and has not looked hard enough for electrical flaws in Toyota vehicles.

"It has become very political. There is a lot of anger towards Toyota," Mr. Person said. Transportation officials "are hoping against hope that they find something that points back to a flaw in Toyota vehicles."

NHTSA has received more than 3,000 unconfirmed complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas, including some dating to early last decade, according to a report the agency compiled in March. The incidents include 75 fatal crashes involving 93 deaths.

Documentary on Toyota's Recall Situation to Air Thursday on CNBC

May 11, 2010

On Thursday, May 13, CNBC will air a documentary titled "Total Recall: "The Toyota Story."  The one-hour documentary is an abridged version of the "BBC Money Programme" that aired in the United Kingdom on March 25.

A CNBC programming note describes it as follows: "Once the model of modern manufacturing, Toyota is now plagued by quality issues, millions of recalls, and admissions of over-ambitious global expansion compromising safety. How did this happen and when will the recalls end? "Total Recall: The Toyota Story" tells the remarkable inside story of the rise and missteps of the world's biggest car maker."

Overall, the tone is neutral-to-positive, according to Toyota officials who have seen the documentary. Toyota Europe had extensive discussions with the BBC about the program both before and during the production. An interview with Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada,  the global company's chief engineer, and video clips from global President Akio Toyoda's congressional testimony and his remarks to Toyota employees in Japan were included. Ultimately, Toyota officials who have seen the documentary said the result is a factual, somewhat critical, look at the company and its current situation.

Police Cite Driver Error in New York Prius Incident
As reported by the Associated Press

March 23, 2010

Police in Harrison, N.Y. on Monday said it appears that a widely reported Prius crash on March 9 was caused by pedal misapplication.  "The vehicle accelerator in this case was depressed 100 percent at the time of collision," Capt. Anthony Marraccini, acting chief of the Harrison police department, said at a press conference yesterday afternoon.  "There was absolutely no indication of any brake application."
The Associated Press reported that the department's findings were based on information from the car's on-board event data recorder.  NHTSA announced last week that its investigators had reached the same conclusion.  Toyota engineers also participated in the investigation.  "Toyota has been very cooperative," said Capt. Marraccini.
Capt. Marraccini noted that the driver in this incident "believes she depressed the brake."  The results of the investigation, however, were "black and white," according to the chief.  She did not try to deceive police, he said, and she faces no charges.
Sharing his thoughts after the investigation, Reuters News reported that the acting police chief noted, "Quite honestly, I would have no reservations about putting my own family" in a Prius.

Internet Speculation Of Hoax Surrounds Prius Driver James Sikes

FOX40 News, Sacremento

March 11, 2010

SACRAMENTO - Toyota Prius owner Jim Sikes is in the spotlight after reporting the accelerator pedal of his blue 2008 Toyota Prius got stuck, pushing his car to speeds above 90 miles per hour on Interstate 8 in San Diego County on Monday afternoon.

While the California Highway Patrol doesn't question his story, bloggers and radio listeners are wondering whether this is another "balloon boy" style hoax, done for the publicity or the money.

He's been on TV before, and seems to cherish the attention. In 2006 he was on television, winning $55,000 on "The Big Spin." As a real estate agent in San Diego, he boasts of his celebrity clients, including Constance Ramos of "Extreme Home Makeover."

Questions were first raised after his 911 call became public. The 61-year-old entrepreneur told the dispatcher, "My car can't slow down."

The operator repeatedly told Sikes to put his Prius into neutral during the more than 20 minute call, but Sikes didn't act on her requests, and didn't try it. He said he was afraid it might slip into reverse.

CHP Officer Todd Neibert also gave instructions to Sikes over a loudspeaker. When his patrol car caught up with the Prius, he smelled burning brakes.

Neibert says, "The brakes were definitely down to hardly any material."

The Prius finally stopped after Sikes applied the emergency brake and turned off the ignition.

Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales, says all Priuses are equipped with a computer system that cuts power to the wheels if the brake and gas pedals are depressed at the same time.

"It's tough for us to say if we're skeptical. I'm mystified in how it could happen with the brake override system," he said.

With questions about his story, FOX40 News looked into Sikes background. Our report found no evidence of any criminal record, but Sikes definitely had money problems, including a police report for grand theft, a filing for bankruptcy, and a side business that would raise some eyebrows.

In 2001, Sikes filed a police report with the Merced County Sheriff's Department for $58,000 in stolen property, including jewelry, a prosumer mini-DV camera and gear, and $24,000 in cash.

A neighbor near Sikes' former home in Atwater mentioned the money problems to FOX40 News, adding, "I'm not surprised [if] he'd try to get money."

Two years ago, Sikes filed for bankruptcy in San Diego. Documents show he was more than $700,000 in debt and owed Toyota $19000 for his Prius.

He has since told the media that he was never behind in payments.

Sikes still struggles with a reputation in Northern California. Jim Pernetti with AAA California Document Services says he's also aware of Sikes' past.

"I've been warned that he used to do business here," Pernetti told FOX40, "and that I should be wary of anything with him."

The Atwater neighbor says Sikes and his wife Patty had a reputation for other reasons.

FOX40 News uncovered a new business that Sikes appears to have started: the website, registered with the California Business Registry's database asAdultSwingLife, LLC. James Sikes is listed as an "agent and member" according to records obtained by FOX40 News, and an online listing with an affiliated adult website lists a personal cell phone number of Sikes' as a point of contact for

The AdultSwingLife website is not a pornographic site, but the online forum features erotic photos of its members. It's not clear how much money the site is making, or whether it will help with the bankruptcy.

A spokesperson with Toyota told FOX40 News they're aware of Sikes' background. Sikes has now hired a lawyer, but says he will not sue Toyota and is not trying to make money -- he just wants a new car.

Sikes tells the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper about problems in his past saying, "I've had things happen in my life, but I'm not making up this story."

In the past 10 weeks, 271 other people have reported similar problems, and there's no reason to believe any of their stories are hoaxes.

Sikes has not returned FOX40's calls to his business and cell phone.

2-second video causes headache for ABC News
As reported by the Associated Press

March 11, 2010

NEW YORK - For the want of a better two-second picture of a tachometer, ABC News has called into question its reporting on acceleration problems with Toyota vehicles.

The network's handling of a Feb. 22 "World News" story about potential problems with computer systems in Toyotas has created ethical questions and intensified bitter feelings the besieged automaker already had toward ABC.

ABC has admitted to a misjudgment and swapped out the brief dashboard video in its report, which continues to be available online. Its story illustrated a report by David Gilbert, a Southern Illinois University professor who suggested that a design flaw in Toyotas might leave a short-circuit that could cause sudden acceleration undetected by the car's computer system.

Correspondent Brian Ross' "World News" report showed him driving a Toyota with Gilbert that was rigged to quickly accelerate. Even though he knew it was coming, Ross said the incident left him shaken, and he had a hard time getting the car to come to a stop.

Briefly during the drive, ABC cut to a picture of a tachometer with the needle zooming forward. The impression was that the tachometer was documenting the ride Ross was taking. Instead, that picture was taken from a separate instance where a short-circuit was induced in a parked car.

ABC said that editing was done because it was impossible to get a good picture of the tachometer while the car was moving because the camera was shaking. The camera shot was steady when it was taken in a parked car.

"The tachometer showed the same thing every time," said ABC News spokeswoman Emily Lenzner.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson disputes that, saying tachometers react much more dramatically when short-circuits happen in a parked car than a car that is moving. Tachometers measure engine speed.

It all points to problems that are created when visual journalists try to alter reality in order to get a better picture.

"Anytime you give the audience any reason to doubt the honesty of the piece, that's a serious problem," said Charlotte Grimes, a Syracuse University journalism professor who specializes in ethical issues.

"Do they honestly think that a company like Toyota, with all the resources that it has, would not be looking at these things?" Grimes asked.

Toyota recognized the differences right away: the shot showed the car's speedometer was at zero, the parking brake was on and no one was using the seat belts - while Ross wore one on the test drive, Hanson said. Online discussion of the differences began almost immediately, and the Web site wrote about it last week.

ABC edited the online version of its story shortly after that story appeared and wrote a note on its Web site explaining why.

"This was a misjudgment made in the editing room," Lenzner said. "They should have left the shaky shot in. But I want to make clear that the two-second shot that was used did not change the outcome of the report in any way."
The inserted tachometer shot still didn't specifically illustrate Ross' ride. It was from another ride made in order to create different camera angles. A camera person could not have captured the tachometer shot with Ross and Gilbert both in the car, Lenzner said.
Toyota's Hanson said it was next to impossible for the short circuit detailed by Gilbert to happen in real life. The automaker, which had to recall many of its cars because of problems associated with a depressed gas pedal, held a news conference on Monday to try and refute Gilbert's study. It depicted similar short circuits in other cars, none of which were detected by the vehicles' computer system.
Gilbert did not return phone or e-mail messages for comment, and a woman who answered the phone at his home said he was unavailable.

Hanson said he wished Toyota could have been invited to see the simulation conducted by ABC. "Simulation" is a word that brings back tough memories for TV networks: NBC's news president lost his job in 1993 after it was revealed that for a "Dateline NBC" study about alleged safety problems with General Motors trucks, the network rigged a truck with small explosives for a story. Lenzner said it was ridiculous to compare a two-second tachometer shot to the NBC case.

She said Toyota was given a chance to comment on the story the day it was aired.

"It was not like ABC was trying to alter the footage," she said. "There was no staging. There was no dramatization. It was an editing mistake."

Even before this report, relations between Toyota and ABC were on edge. More than 100 Toyota dealerships in the Southeast had agreed last month to pull advertising on local ABC affiliated because they were angry with Ross' aggressive reporting on the automaker's problems.

March 4, 2010

This is Toyota Fast Facts, an update on breaking news, our recent recalls and the work we are doing to make things right for our customers. Please feel free to share this information with family and friends. For additional information and breaking news, please visit
1. Toyota Addresses Additional Complaints Filed with NHTSA
News reports on Wednesday noted that a few complaints have been filed with NHTSA alleging unintended acceleration in vehicles that have already been fixed as part of the recalls. The company has responded to press inquiries with the following statement:  "We are confident that Toyota vehicles are safe, and we're doing everything we can to ensure that our customers are satisfied with the rigorously tested recall remedies. We are making preparations to investigate these concerns and will do so quickly."

2. Rep. Darrell Issa Urges Transportation Secretary to Establish Industrywide Solution on Unintended Acceleration
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) on Wednesday sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood calling for an industrywide solution on sudden unintended acceleration. "Based on information turned over to [Congress] by State Farm Insurance Company, Toyota is not the only vehicle manufacturer who has a significant number of complaints relating to SUA events," Issa wrote. "It appears the SUA events are not limited to vehicles produced by Toyota Motor Company?an industrywide solution is necessary."
In his letter, Issa raised the issue of whether brake override systems could limit the number of unintended acceleration incidents and asked for the Department of Transportation's assessment. Toyota has already announced that it will install brake override technology on all recalled vehicles where such a modification is technically possible. This feature is also scheduled to be incorporated into future production of models sold in the United States by the end of 2010.
To read Issa's news release about the letter, please click on: //

3. Popular Mechanics Examines Toyota's Vehicle Electronics
An article in Popular Mechanics this week examines the use of Electronic Throttle Control systems and claims of electromagnetic interference. Writer Mike Allen dissects the inner workings of the ETCS, describing the two discrete sensors in standard gas pedals, and explains the efforts made to prevent unintended acceleration. He writes: "Bottom line: The system is not only redundant, it's double-redundant?Toyota deserves a better deal than the media and Congress are giving it."
To read the full article, click on: //

4. Says 'Media Blew It' in Reporting Toyota's February Sales

Headlines this week noted that Toyota sales were down almost 9 percent in February. But Chuck Ross, managing director of, says the real introduction to the story should have been this: "Despite more negative publicity than almost any company has ever received about its products, Toyota sold 100,000 cars in February. Only General Motors and Ford, both with auto sales of about 140,000 each, sold more. Nine auto companies, including major players such as Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen, all sold fewer cars than embattled Toyota last month."

The Toyota Witch Hunt

Much of the testimony from Congress's Toyota hearings is riveting and emotional but can't be trusted, writes Ed Wallace
By Ed Wallace

"Several times I have noticed that the acceleration will drop off the second I take my foot off the pedal. Please advise ASAP!!!!!!!!!"-NHTSA Toyota Complaint #10302477
"Accelerator stuck, wide-open position, sudden acceleration to high speed, while driving. Unable to stop vehicle with braking system."-NHTSA Toyota Complaint #10302541

The above are two of the thousands of complaints registered with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concerning speed control issues with late-model Toyota (TM) Camrys. The media keep saying that "close to 3,000 complaints of uncontrollable unintended acceleration" have been sent to the NHTSA, and doing so may make their audience think each of these "complaints" stems from a legitimate problem-maybe even an accident. Like everything else in this fiasco, that's overstated.
What is important to remember is that many of the items included in that number are not complaints at all. The first one above actually reports that the accelerator pedal works exactly as it's designed to: It doesn't stick, it responds instantly.
And many serious-sounding complaints raise questions as to their veracity. For example, in the second complaint above, in spite of the fact that the person claimed the throttle was stuck in a full open position, with no brakes, that file also shows the vehicle was not involved in a wreck. That is a very strange outcome for a car driving uncontrollably at a high rate of speed with no working brakes.
"Malfunction Could Not Be Duplicated"
On Feb. 23, a House Energy & Commerce subcommittee held lengthy hearings on the Toyota situation. Their first witnesses after the committee members' opening statements were Eddie and Rhonda Smith of Sevierville, Tenn., who related the story of their 2007 Lexus ES 350.

Ms. Smith claimed she had been driving toward Interstate 40 when, immediately after entering the highway, her Lexus started accelerating out of control. Ms. Smith related how the cruise-control light came on, so she turned that system off. She put the automatic transmission into all of its gears, including neutral and reserve. She put both feet on the brakes and still nothing. According to her testimony and an article published at on Aug. 29, 2007, she also engaged the parking brake. She called her husband-not that she felt he could help, but "just to hear his voice one more time"-and then, according to her testimony, "prayed for God to help me." Ms. Smith credited God with intervening after she'd gone six miles at more than 100 mph. The car simply started slowing down, and she could finally bring it to a complete stop.

Smith's testimony was riveting and highly emotional, and anyone watching could see she honestly believed she was relating what actually happened. No viewer could have been untouched by her sincerity. But that's not the end of her story.
Her local Lexus dealer examined her car and could find nothing. Then, as Ms. Smith related, the NHTSA actually sent an employee down to Tennessee to investigate her complaint. Only the NHTSA concluded that she had two sets of floor mats in her car-a rubber all-weather floor mat, placed on top of the standard factory issue-and it was likely that situation had created her problem. In fact, Smith was quoted in 2007 as saying, "I think it's sad that these mats were installed like they were."
The Smiths dismissed the dealer's findings, the NHTSA's, and an arbitration board's by saying that they had been "called liars." More than likely the investigators simply said that there was no evidence they could find to explain the situation as she described it.
The Proof Would Be Visible

In a case like this, some physical evidence would remain; and a thorough investigation should be able to determine what truly took place. Certainly slamming on the emergency brake, as Smith claimed she had done in 2007, leaves tangible evidence. Here's why.
The parking brake in a Lexus ES 350 operates separately from the power brake system. It is a secondary disc/drum brake that is controlled by a direct link cable-so the car's electronics could not come into play. Moreover, once that cable-operated brake is fully engaged, it could lock up the nonpowered rear wheels of the Lexus, effectively negating the antilock brake system's ability to operate. And locking the real wheels on a Lexus ES 350 moving at a high rate of speed would "sand" the bottom of the tires against the pavement. In a partially engaged position, it will heat up and cause brake damage. But either way, because it is being applied on the rear wheels-and the Lexus ES is a front-wheel-drive car-it would still slow the car down.
This is the one thing Rhonda Smith claimed she tried and it didn't work that no one can blame on ghosts in the electronics.
As for Ms. Smith's position that she threw her car into reverse and it did nothing to either stop the car or damage the transmission, that's an incredible claim that so far no mechanic believes. Just as anyone who has ever tested cars knows that full pressure to the brakes will always override engine speed. (It should be noted that on Toyota's hybrids you can put the car in reverse while in motion, and nothing will happen.)

Rhonda Smith thanked Sean Kane, president of for-profit auto industry safety consultant Safety Research & Strategies Inc. for inviting her to testify on Tuesday. For those who didn't watch the proceedings, the most humorous part was Kane trying to get out of answering the direct question, Did part of his funding come from litigation attorneys who are actively suing Toyota on this issue? In fact, they do pay him. According to a Feb. 13 article in The Wall Street Journal, the Rehoboth (Mass.)-based company works with plaintiff's attorneys to file suits against the automakers it investigates.
Follow-up: The Smiths sold their Lexus after that incident, and, also according to the Journal, last week the NHTSA checked with the new owners and "they have had no problems with the Lexus since they bought it with less than 3,000 miles on the car."
"Findings" Hardly Scientific

Herein lies the problem with congressional hearings on issues like this. The individuals who should have testified following Eddie and Rhonda Smith could have been the NHTSA expert who flew to Tennessee, inspected her vehicle, and concluded that it was likely the double layer of floor mats. Or the certified mechanic at her Lexus dealership likewise could have told Congress how he could find no evidence of mechanical failure with her car. Who knows, their testimony might have validated her claims, had it been proved that they did little or nothing to truly try to uncover what happened that day. Conversely, things could have gone the other way. But we all would have had a better, more balanced understanding of her case as stated.
Instead, we were treated to Dr. David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University, also a guest of Mr. Kane's, who claimed to have found how Toyota's electronic system could totally malfunction, creating a runaway car-and claimed he'd found the error in less than four hours. Spoiler alert: Dr. Gilbert was assigned this work by Kane's safety advocacy firm, with at least partial funding by trial lawyers.
Here, too, is a problem: Dr. Gilbert said he relayed the results of that test and his concerns directly to Toyota. In short order Toyota looked into Dr. Gilbert's claims and found them not to be valid in terms of creating unintended acceleration. Then, to the company's surprise, it watched his appearance with Brian Ross on ABC News this past Monday night, Feb. 22.
According to Toyota, it now appears that Dr. Gilbert had done something completely different in order to get a Toyota Avalon to accelerate under its own power. Toyota offered to evaluate Dr. Gilbert's Avalon, with ABC in attendance, and see what he did electronically to cause it to accelerate.

Additionally, Toyota is fairly adamant that Gilbert's "test evaluation" on ABC News was not the original "discovery" he relayed to them on Feb. 16.

Back in the Hot Seat
Back in the congressional hearings, Representative Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) played another tragedy for the committee. It was the case mentioned in my last column, that of the Toyota Avalon that on Dec. 26, 2009, went into a pond and killed four people in Southlake, Tex. Rush apparently felt he should go on record before Congress about this because one of the individuals killed in that tragedy had a relative in his district.
Rush's emotionally charged statement concerns a case that continues to reverberate. Yet it should be noted that Southlake police saw no evidence that the driver attempted to brake before the Avalon entered the water. One eyewitness claimed to have passed the car prior to the accident and been unable to see a driver sitting up.
More troubling is the insinuation in the media by the driver's widow that the car had been taken several times to Texas Toyota of Grapevine for unintended acceleration with no problem found. The family's attorney, Randy Roberts of Tyler, Tex., repeated her allegations this past weekend in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. However, Chris Grady, general manager of Texas Toyota, has already turned over the service records on that Avalon to both Toyota and Mr. Roberts. And those records show that the Avalon had been in their shop once and once only-for nothing more than an oil change. There were no complaints on any malfunction whatsoever.
As it turns out, no Toyota dealer in the whole South Central region had ever had any complaints about unintended acceleration, before this story broke nationally. At the Gulf States Toyota mid-winter meeting, attended by more than 150 dealers, an official asked for a show of hands of any dealers who'd ever had such a complaint in their service department prior to this story breaking nationally. And in this closed meeting, according to three dealers who were present, not one dealer raised a hand.
Furthermore, why didn't Congress simply ask Toyota to provide a complete list of all warranty claims on this complaint made before the media made their serious allegations? That would have taken this issue out of the realm of speculation into one of hard facts.
Forgetting the Question: Is It True?
If only to resolve the rabid focus on Toyota's problems, it's past time to turn this over to the engineers. Innuendo, emotion, and speculation are not how one resolves an issue such as this. Even in the hearings in Congress, it appeared that most witnesses were tied to safety advocates, litigation attorneys, and traumatized victims; that's like trying a case in court with no defense attorneys. The outcome is almost preordained.
Maybe that's the point.
Instead of endlessly repeating "the NHTSA has 3,000 or so listed complaints on this problem," the media should bear in mind that many cases in that number are not actually "complaints," per se. Continuing to use that statistic just keeps misleading the audience. So let's cull the reported number down to just the accidents, those that can't be explained fully, and study them.
There's no escaping the fact that many of the vehicle-blamed accidents reported were actually caused by driver error (something Toyota will never say out loud), and many of the owners of these automobiles know that. As noted before, brakes always win out over engines, even at full throttle; that has been tested and proved many times in the past 20 years, including recent Car and Driver tests on Toyotas. So, if someone claims a car was speeding out of control and the brakes refused to work, from an engineering viewpoint that claim is instantly suspect.
Cut to the Bonfire

If Congress really wanted to get at the truth, they should have called disinterested third-party engineers to study and get their opinion on this case. Nobody believes Toyota, even if the final facts prove it's correct. Everyone believes the witnesses, even when the engineering evidence often disproves their testimony. It is impossible to come to a scientifically valid conclusion under those two circumstances, which is why many individuals involved in this issue have described the proceedings as "witch hunts."
Come to think of it, maybe that's exactly how the hearings should be run for full entertainment value.
Congress should reconvene the hearings in Salem, Mass. They could tie a Toyota to a long pole and dunk it into Beverly Harbor. If the Toyota sinks, then Congress will find the company guilty of all charges. But if the Toyota floats, we'll find the automaker innocent. This should be done in real time to get the maximum TV audience; although the outcome would, again, be predetermined, it should still be a ratings grabber.

The alternative is to let the mechanics and engineers do their jobs and either find the fault or give everyone a reasonable explanation for what happened. The only problem with that suggestion is it's already been done. And no one wants to accept the conclusions.

Ed Wallace is a recipient of the the Gerald R. Loeb Award for business journalism, given by the G. and R. Loeb Foundation, and is a member of the American Historical Society. His column leads the Fort Worth Star-Telegram's "Sunday Drive" section. He reviews new cars every Friday morning at 7:15 on Fox Four's Good Day, contributes articles to BusinessWeek Online, and hosts the top-rated talk show Wheels Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on 570 KLIF.

Toyota Witch Hunt
By Brian Johnson

Toyota, which employs over 35,000 workers in the United States with factories in eight states, is the target of a government-led and union-supported attack due to recent recalls.

In the U.S., it is estimated that 15,000 Lexus HS250h and 133,000 Prius models will be recalled due to gas pedal issues, with another 500,000 Prius and other gasoline-electric hybrids needing anti-brake software modification. As unfortunate and inconvenient as recalls can be, this not the first, or last time an automobile will need to be brought back to the shop for a quick fix.

One might think this is the first auto recall in decades from the way government officials and Congressional Committees have pounced on Toyota. However, as recent as last month, Honda announced a recall of 646,000 Fit models (or Jazz in some markets) due to a faulty master switch that could allow water to enter the electrical components resulting in fires. Ford, less than one year ago, was forced to recall more than 4 million cars based on 550 vehicle fires. The recall concerned cruise-control deactivation switches that were installed in 16 million Fords. Part of the recall included nearly 1.1 million 1995-2003 Ford Windstar family van models.

There was no government outcry and no demand for Congressional hearings over these recent recalls. So why has Toyota suddenly become the target of a government-led witch hunt?

Toyota's U.S. operations are extremely successful, not saturated by inefficient union monopolies, and are in direct competition with the now government-owned General Motors.

From their first U.S. factory in 1988, the Japanese company's success in the U.S. is extraordinary. In 2003, the Camry became the best-selling car in the U.S. and still is. In 2005, Fortune magazine stated: "By nearly every measure, Toyota is the world's best auto manufacturer. It may be the world's best manufacturer, period." In 2006, Toyota became the third-biggest seller of cars and trucks in the U.S. In 2007, Toyota captured second place in the U.S. market, replacing Ford, which had held the No. 2 position since 1931. In 2008, as GM declined and temporarily avoided bankruptcy, Toyota surpassed their unionized competitor becoming the largest automaker in the world.

Toyota's ability to ascend, while others plummeted, lies in their philosophy based on efficiency and productivity called "The Toyota Way." This corporate philosophy is not anti-union, rather based on the principle of "kaizen" which means "continuous improvement." This principle seeks complete quality management by improving local work environments and raising productivity. It empowers executives and plant employees, who are famously authorized by Toyota to stop the assembly line to quickly solve any problems based on their own discretion. Such practices are never heard of and often forbade in other highly unionized automobile facilities.

In fact, the differences in efficiency and productivity (and why the unions are determined to penetrate Toyota's workforce), do not stop there. When GM fired over 35,000 employees between 2006 and 2008, Toyota laid off zero. GM loses almost $2,500 in profitability per vehicle where Toyota makes almost $1,500 per vehicle. This is largely due to GM's forced union contracts. GM's union, the United Auto Workers (UAW) mandates that GM pay, on average, each non-skilled line worker about $33 dollars per hour. This inflated wage includes workers who are "idle," meaning they don't have a specific job that day, but can still come to work, sit in a special facility and collect a pay check.

These artificially inflated costs, bound by forced union contracts, are sinking other US auto industries. Toyota has managed to rise above that, not by being anti-union, but by believing in and enforcing a corporate-wide model based on efficiency and improvement.

Now, the agents of the government, which controls GM, are publicly castigating Toyota in an attempt to smear the company and increase their own profitability. As a direct competitor with Toyota by way of involvement with GM, the assault against Toyota represents one of the most public conflicts of interests the business world has experienced.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, told owners of a recalled Toyota to "stop driving it" and take it to a dealer to get it fixed. As a appointee of President Obama, who supported the government takeover of GM, LaHood's comments should be viewed as a violation of the government's own "non-compete" commitment. In publically condemning Toyota, which is now a competitor of a government owned corporation, LaHood is using his position to drive down the market share of Toyota and advance the interests of GM.

LaHood's comments and the call for House Congressional Hearings into Toyota, led by members with union-heavy districts whose interests appear to be self-serving, has led to a public outcry from a bi-partisan group of Governors whose constituents rely on Toyota for employment. Led by Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-Ind.) who says, "Let's recall. Let's fix it?If a fine is in order, then fine, but they have gone so far beyond that. It's very, very suspicious in view of the government conflict of interest." Daniels added, "These Congressmen running this committee have their own agenda and it is a discriminating agenda in this case. They didn't do this the last several hundred recalls."

The government, in this case backed by the union saturation of GM, has a clear conflict of interest in owning companies that are in direct competition with Toyota. The problems have been determined, the solutions are in process. Sec. LaHood and the union-supported Democrat heads of the committees holding hearings on this matter should step back and allow the private sector to function without biased interference.

Toyota Announces Gas Pedal Fix

Toyota today announced it will begin fixing accelerator pedals in recalled Toyota Division vehicles this week.  Toyota's engineers have developed and rigorously tested a solution that involves reinforcing the pedal assembly in a manner that eliminates the excess friction that has caused the pedals to stick in rare instances.  In addition, Toyota has developed an effective solution for vehicles in production.

Parts to reinforce the pedals are already being shipped for use by dealers, and dealer training is under way.  Many Toyota dealers will work extended hours to complete the recall campaign as quickly and conveniently as possible, some even staying open 24 hours a day. The company has also taken the unprecedented action of stopping production of affected vehicles for the week of February 1.

Toyota has pinpointed the issue that could, on rare occasions, cause accelerator pedals in recalled vehicles to stick in a partially open position.  The issue involves a friction device in the pedal designed to provide the proper "feel" by adding resistance and making the pedal steady and stable.  The device includes a shoe that rubs against an adjoining surface during normal pedal operation.  Due to the materials used, wear and environmental conditions, these surfaces may, over time, begin to stick and release instead of operating smoothly.  In some cases, friction could increase to a point that the pedal is slow to return to the idle position or, in rare cases, the pedal sticks, leaving the throttle partially open.
Toyota's solution for current owners is both effective and simple.  A precision-cut steel reinforcement bar will be installed into the assembly that will reduce the surface tension between the friction shoe and the adjoining surface.  With this reinforcement in place, the excess friction that can cause the pedal to stick is eliminated.  The company has confirmed the effectiveness of the newly reinforced pedals through rigorous testing on pedal assemblies that had previously shown a tendency to stick.
Separately from the recall for sticking accelerator pedals, Toyota is in the process of recalling vehicles to address rare instances in which floor mats have trapped the accelerator pedal in certain Toyota and Lexus models (announced November 25, 2009), and is already notifying customers about how it will fix this issue.  In the case of vehicles covered by both recalls, it is Toyota's intention to remedy both at the same time.

FAQ for the Sticky Accelerator Pedal Recall


What is the condition that has prompted Toyota to take this action?

In rare instances, there is a possibility that certain accelerator pedal mechanisms may, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position.


What is the likelihood that my vehicle will experience this condition?

The incidence of this condition is rare and occurs gradually over a period time. It 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. 


What should I do if I believe my vehicle is affected by this condition?, i.e. I have noticed that my accelerator pedal is hard to depress, slow to return or is unsmooth during operation.

The vehicle should be driven to the nearest safe location, the engine shut off and a Toyota dealer contacted for assistance.


What if you experience a sticking accelerator pedal while driving?

  • Each circumstance may vary, and drivers must use their best judgment, but Toyota recommends taking one of following actions:
  • If you need to stop immediately, the vehicle can be controlled by stepping on the brake pedal with both feet using firm and steady pressure.  Do not pump the brake pedal as it will deplete the vacuum utilized for the power brake assist.
  • Shift the transmission gear selector to the Neutral (N) position and use the brakes to make a controlled stop at the side of the road and turn off the engine.
  • If unable to put the vehicle in Neutral, turn the engine OFF. This will not cause loss of steering or braking control, but the power assist to these systems will be lost.
  • If the vehicle is equipped with an Engine Start/Stop button, firmly and steadily push the button for at least three seconds to turn off the engine.  Do NOT tap the Engine Start/Stop button. 
  • If the vehicle is equipped with a conventional key-ignition, turn the ignition key to the ACC position to turn off the engine.  Do NOT remove the key from the ignition as this will lock the steering wheel. 


If I am an owner of one of the affected vehicles, what action do I need to take?

Toyota is working quickly to prepare a correction remedy and will issue owner notifications in the future.  No action is required at this time unless you feel you are experiencing this condition.  If you are experiencing this condition, immediately contact your nearest Toyota Dealer for assistance.        


What should I do if I still have questions or concerns?

If you still have questions or concerns that have not been addressed here, please contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331. 

The Toyota Customer Experience Center hours are:

Mon - Fri, 5:00 am - 6:00 pm PST
Sat, 7:00 am - 4:00 pm PST   


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