LA Times Slander of Toyota Continues

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LA Times journalists V&B are at it again – we criticized them a few weeks ago for using inflammatory images and unsubstantiated opinions to stoke consumer fears of Toyotas and unintended acceleration, and now we find them accusing Toyota’s electronic throttle system of being defective (link)…with only manipulated and incomplete data to support their claims.

The LA Times and Consumer Reports use incomplete, manipulated data to accuse Toyota of faulty electronic throttles.

The LA Times and Consumer Reports use incomplete, manipulated data to accuse Toyota of faulty electronic throttles.

To be clear, we have no business criticizing others for journalistic integrity…but we feel obligated to evaluate these accusations critically considering how many Toyota owners are driving in fear. Here’s why this reporting (link) from the L.A. Times is slanderous:

Let’s assume for a moment that the L.A. Times article is correct and that Toyota has an electronic throttle control system problem. If this is really the case, Toyota would have an inordinate number of complaints when compared to other manufacturers:

Toyota and Lexus vehicles received 41% of all consumer complaints to a federal database about runaway acceleration, more than Chrysler, General Motors, Honda and Nissan combined, analysis by Consumer Reports found

So far, so good. The data may confirm our hypothesis. However, what about the other 59% of complaints? What is the source? According to an expert cited in a previous LA Times article by V and B (link):

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

Again, assuming that Toyota’s electronic system is broken, they should have higher than average reported problems…but every manufacturer should have some claims, shouldn’t they? After all, according to the expert most of the time the issue is human error. We’re all humans and we all make errors, so all cars should have reports of unintended acceleration.

Therefore, these reports should loosely reflect market share. Since GM sold 22% of all vehicles in 2008, they should have approximately 22% of all unintended acceleration complaints. Unfortunately, this does not match the data…not even close. Consumer Reports found 165 complaints they believed to be a result of unintended acceleration – here’s how these 165 complaints broke down.

| Manufacturer | 2008 Market Share | Percentage of complaints in 2008 |
GM 22.0% 5.0%
Toyota 16.8% 41.0%
Ford 14.4% 28.0%
Chrysler 11.0% 9.0%
Honda 10.9% 4.0%
Nissan 7.2% 2.0%

Of course, there are a few possible explanations for the discrepancy. Consumer Reports, which prepared this data, discounts all of these unintended acceleration complaints saying that “because it is dependent upon motorist submissions, the NHTSA complaint database does not reflect all sudden, unintended acceleration cases.” In other words, the data is incomplete. It’s hard to make the case that Toyota has a problem based on incomplete data. That’s strike one.

Strike two is that Consumer Reports didn’t evaluate every complaint – they only evaluated complaints where the consumer “sustained unintended acceleration that the driver found difficult or impossible to control.” Out of 5,916 complaints about 2008 models that were registered with NHTSA, only 166 complaints matched these criteria. Consumer Reports tossed out the other 5,750 NHTSA acceleration complaints. However, if Toyota’s electronic system was really faulty, why throw out all the complaints that don’t match the “out of control” criteria? A faulty system would have problems at 2 miles an hour, 20 miles an hour, and 200 miles an hour, wouldn’t it? Complaints shouldn’t have to be limited to certain special cases if the system is indeed faulty…so why doctor the data?

Consumer Reports says the F150's acceleration complaints are due to pedal problems, yet the same data for Toyota is used to slander the electronic throttle system.

Consumer Reports says the F150's acceleration complaints are due to pedal problems, yet the same type of data for Toyota's indicates an electronic throttle problem?

Strike three is the way that Ford’s data is handled. When you look at the numbers, you’ll see that Ford had twice as many complaints as they “should” have, based on their market share. Consumer Reports and the L.A. Times were willing to explain away Ford’s discrepancy by citing the fact that most of these complaints were against the F150, saying that the F150’s pedals are too close together (therefore, there’s no problem with the truck’s electronic throttle).

To be fair, this explanation makes perfect sense…but acknowledging that pedal distance is a factor in out of control acceleration reports undermines the argument that Toyota’s electronic throttle system is faulty. After all, if the F150’s above-average number of complaints are a result of pedals, couldn’t it be that Toyota’s complaints are also a result of pedals that are too close together? Or perhaps floor mats? Or perhaps pedal size? Or perhaps driver panic was a factor, just like UCLA professor Schmidt says that it is the vast majority of the time?

Couldn’t it be that these stats are incomplete and possible even incorrect? It’s not nearly as exciting and “newsworthy” to say that this data is incomplete and/or insignificant, but it would certainly match the other data we have, i.e. the 9 NHTSA investigations of Toyota acceleration complaints that found no flaws, plus the internal Toyota investigations that found absolutely no problem.

Finally, one of the authors of this article (Ralph Vartabedian) has a reputation for reporting less than the whole truth. Vartabedian wrote an article in 2008 essentially accusing John McCain of being unfit to be President because he collected a disability pension. Of course, Vartabedian’s article didn’t actually say that McCain was unfit – instead, he just intimated that McCain might be. If you really want to evaluate these LA Times articles about Toyota fairly, take a moment to review Vartabedian’s article on McCain and the numerous rebuttals:

While every reporter worth his or her salt is accused of bias, a brief glance at Vartabedian’s body of work shows that his “style” seems to be incomplete reporting combined with inflammatory headlines.

Bottom Line: The L.A. Times and Consumer Reports have manipulated incomplete data to accuse Toyota of having a faulty electronic throttle system. While it could be that Toyota has a problem, this type of reporting isn’t helping anyone discover the truth. Instead of going for outrageous headlines that get syndicated nationwide, V & B should stick to the facts and make their case in a logical fashion.

Filed Under: Auto NewsTundra News

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  1. Deznutjob says:

    The pedals in my 2007 Tundra are just fine! As a matter of fact one of the first things I noticed after transitioning from my 2000 Tundra to this new one was the comfort and ease of the pedal arrangment.

  2. Deznutjob – I think the pedals on the Tundra are fine, but my point is that Consumer Reports is willing to excuse the F150 because they’ve decided the F150’s pedals are the problem. However, Consumer Reports and the L.A. Times don’t seem to believe pedals could be the reason for unintended acceleration claims directed at Toyota. Why? IF pedals are a problem on one vehicle, can’t they also be a problem on another? BTW, the 2008 F150’s pedals are plenty far apart. This looks and feels like a witch hunt.

  3. Ok, So we are back to the LA Times and Consumer Reports being worth less than the paper they are printed on. Every person with an IQ over 70 knows this already. Consumer Reports needs to stick to reviewing toasters and hair dryers while the LA Times writers need to stick to…uh….Coloring Books.

  4. dpd says:

    Why bring Ford in this? They have not had a recall. I understand what your saying but the NHTSA would not issue a recall with out facts. Sounds like the blame game. One of the individuals it happened to was a California Highway Patrol officer, leads me to believe he knows how to handle a vehicle and react under stress.

  5. But the offical finding said that he did not respond correctly when it happened.

  6. dpd – We didn’t bring Ford into this – that was Consumer Reports. The “blame game” isn’t what’s going on here. We’re simply pointing out that Consumer Reports can excuse Ford’s unintended acceleration claims by saying pedals are too close together, yet the exact same evidence for Toyota somehow points to an electronic problem. Toyota voluntarily recalled 3.8 million cars to change the size and shape of the gas pedals so they’re less likely to get caught on floor mats. If F150s can accelerate because people are stomping on the wrong pedal, can’t Toyota’s do that too?

  7. Mickey says:

    dpd, As mentioned above about Ford you can’t honestly believe CR is so innocent. You can add that heated winshield washer debacle at GM? Funny Consumer Reports still made the Avalanche their number one choice even with that issue. All LA Times is trying to do is sell papers at someone else’s expense. As for the CHP and your statement well if he knew how to handle a vehicle how come he couldn’t find “N” for neutral. Enough said. He lost all control and freaked out. That may sound cold but facts are facts.

  8. dpd says:

    So its happened to you Mickey in a Toyota or Lexas? Until it does maybe you need to keep your comments of the deceased and situations to your self. Seen it before first hand, know it all tough guys till the sh!t hits the fan then they don’t know what to do!

  9. dpd says:

    Here is the link to the story, I hope you don’t mind Jason. Maybe someone needs to put his family in loaner vehicle and try to re enact it to show the world how its done.

    • dpd – It’s a tragic story for sure. The dealership loaned him a car with 2 sets of floormats (bad), and one set was all-weather and in the wrong size (also bad). The driver, despite being a police office, did not know how to operate the transmission (bad), but in his defense it was a Lexus with paddle shifters on the column (not a standard gearshift as Mickey suggested). Finally, the driver, despite being a police office, did not know how to shut off the engine (bad). Neither did the other 3 people in the car (that’s bad too), nor did the 911 operator (also bad). The investigation has shown that the floormats were most likely the issue, however nothing can be ruled out because of the severity of the accident. If you add it all up, you end up with a bad accident that should never have happened. Of course, AT LEAST 6 different mistakes were made in this accident. One could argue that not realizing the pedals were stuck is mistake number 7, but it’s hard to know for sure. While tragic, this accident could have easily been prevented. It should not be the basis for any arguments against Toyota.

  10. Mickey says:

    dpd before you want to jump on LA Times bandwagon maybe the CHP being what you gave him he knows how to handle a vehicle and react under stress was what you may have assumed he knew. Sorry, dpd I won’t keep my comments to myself whether it’s a deceased person or not. Even if it had a paddle shifter you can still see it within view how to put it in neutral. Yes dpd I have two Toyota’s and both have the weather mats and they fit accordingly. They don’t move unless I move them. As mention before by Jason the same deal with Ford but, Ford wasn’t scrutinized like Toyota is. Also dpd these are our first two Toyota’s since I had a 74 Corona SR 5 back in 76.

  11. dpd, You lost your argument and went straight to the “He’s dead, you can’t say that” argument. I have farts smarter than that, wait…I feel a genius brewing from the Chili I had for supper.

    Here is the BOTTOM line. If your vehicle goes racing away ….put it in neutral or cut the ingition. Being that the car in question had a smart key the correct answer was, throw it in neutral. I had a total ABS system failure on an Isuzu Pickup (Back when isuzu made them). Wet road plus faulty abs sensor and proportioning valve for front to rear bias and BLAMO, you have the oposite of anti lock, always lock. The correct action was to steer around the stopped car but I kep fighting the brakes that would lock up the second I touched the pedal. Totaled a Volvo with 2 kids in the rear seat. No one was hurt, if you exclude my ego, but the fault was a combination of faulty brakes and my inexperinence dealing with a trouble situation. I knew what to do but my brain would not move on to the next step. The brakes HAVE to work. It was tragic but the blame lies with the dealer who gave him the car with a stack of floor mats and, to a less extent, with the drivers inability to process the correct course of action. He had time to make a phone call. He had time to put it in neutral.

    Toyota is the target of every inbreed and idiot with an axe to grind about the American public growing a brain and demanding better vehicles. If Toyota get anything wrong it is trumpeted, If the demonestics get anything right it is trumpeted. Inexcusable molestation of the public trust. CR and the LA Crimes need to stay out of any real automotive commentary and review. They are both abominations of what a real unbiased reporting should be.

    OK, Now that my fart has had his say I have to add…yea, what Mr. Stinky said.

  12. Mickey says:

    Jeremy as usual I’m left speechless about Mr. Stinky.

  13. dpd says:

    So CR must be wrong for recommending any Toyota/Lexas product. Just like the F-150 that you speak of they are both on the recommended list. As for Jason the idiot scientist, if you pull your head out of your a$$ that will not happen every time you try to breathe. I’m not taking the defense of anyone but until you are on a California freeway you don’t know what your missing. Try to have some respect. (Jason Take a breathe, you have to remind people every now and then) I understand how it can happen, so doesn’t the NHTSB or they wouldn’t issue a RECALL. Blame CR and every news agency that runs a article about one of the MILLIONS of vehicles affect. If Toyota does not want the negative attention stop trying to get A LOT of positive example: stupid commercials. The good comes with the bad and vice versa. Basically what they are saying is you CLAIM you the best then why the MAJOR issues. You got the talk but not the walk. Jason breathe! See without recalls challenged people will have a hard time making it. So be happy that you live in the US and not Russia, we look out for everyone here. I never in a million years thought there would have ever bee a recall for floormats, everyone say “thanks Toyota”. Jason breathe don’t forget to repeat every minute. So you call it slander others call it speaking their mind right, rat. What’s the Tundra saying “they truck that’s changing everything” see they where right. Now floor mats are going to have instructions, like we needed that. Also did you see Motortrend announced that the Ram is the work truck of the year. Why don’t you cry about that now, oh by the way who is going to re enact it? That’s what I thought! You wanted to play with the big boys so why you crying now, suck it up and get back in there. That’s my too cents. P.S. Stop being whiners, deal with it.

  14. SO, The fact that the cause of the precipitating event was driver error and dealership negligence doesn’t play into this? WAIT…Yes it does.

    Does a floor mat recall count as a major issue? How about the Ford Flame Series of vehicles? You know, I am smart enough to not get my mat stuck under the pedal but if my vehicle stood a good chance of BURSTING INTO FLAMES I would be concerned. The point is that Toyota is remedying an issue that is about people not doing due diligence while operating their vehicles. Ford has had recalls that were INSANE and it was just brushed under the rug. The intelligent people here are all shocked about the blatant bias in CR and the LA Times. We are not upset about the recall. If you had at least read the title you would know that.

    You took off on a half witted journey through Moronville and failed to even TRY to address the real topic. But thank you, This is fun. Would you like to blame Chilian Orphans for the Housing MArket crash? Maybe talk about the recent rise in pudding sales? If we are going to fly off on tangents lets do it right.


    Whew! That was close…I need to get my cue cards again.

    Now, Don’t you have a bridge to hide under and pop out to pose riddles to travelers? My village called, they are missing their idiot so I have to go back to work.

    Remember: Jesus loves you, we just tollerate you.

    P.S. My name is Jeremy. I do have to give you credit for getting the first letter right though. Good Job!

  15. Mickey says:

    What can I say to that….. dpd the reason CR gets no respect is they don’t test all the vehicles and then give them the truck of the year award. Amazing how that goes. Granted the Tundra 4×4 took a hit on it’s recall but the 4×2 didn’t have a recall but wasn’t even mention. The facts were straight from CR that the Tundra 4×2 stood on top on 90% of the tests and had more points but yet didn’t get mentioned. The facts that CR knew about GM’s recall on the heated washer fluid would get too hot and melt the container holding the fluid wasn’t enough to stop the Avalanche which by the way is on an SUV frame not a truck gets the truck of the year? Not to mention it had the worst mpg’s out of all tested and couldn’t tow the most. So where does it become a truck? CR has taken it personal since 2007 against Toyota. CR won’t put the Tundra on the recommended list. As far as the recall you won’t see the other manufacturer’s taking a forefront and recall the floor mats. BTW dpd it’s NHTSA for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. TSB is Technical Service Bulletin. ODI for Office of Defects Investigation was looking into this issue for NHTSA and they couldn’t find anything different than Toyota’s statement of the mats sticking to the pedal. Toyota went ahead and did the recall not on NHTSA’s account but to try and solve the issue. Back in 1976 I had a 1974 Corona SR5 and the mats were velcro’ed to the original carpet. This is why it’s human error. Velcro won’t hold that mat down for a long time without moving and getting full of fuzz causing failure to hold. That would have been a great time to do a recall because it did fail to hold the mat. Unlike what I was informed and told by Toyota, I use both the carpet floormat and the Toyota weather mat and both stay on the hooks till I remove them. I had both in both Toyota’s I own for over the past two years. I’ve had recalls on my 06 Silverado and 03 F-150 and brought them in to get fix. Yes I had my recall on the cruise control. Does California’s freeways any better than any other city’s? Is that what you’re stating? We give the CHP guy his due for his job but I won’t sit here and listen to you state he knows how to handle a vehicle and react under stress when he proved otherwise.

  16. Dpd says:

    Really, so Mickey you are a well known whiner in the auto industry. Jason, Jeremy who ever, goes to show how much I really care. You can go and take a class to with the NHTSA the people who do the recalls. I recommend it cause you don’t know what your talking about. Flaming Fords nice, real mature. A man of lesser would say something about you and the gay sailor in your Kamikaze Edition Toyota’s but the would immature so I will not. 9 years of building full size trucks and still can not get the simple things right like the frame and FLOORMATS. Have a good day.

  17. HA HA HA HA Troll. He is mad because we won’t but his mindless drivel. SO, What were the adults discussing again…Of, CR and LA Times not being respectable publications.

  18. Dpd says:

    So if Consumer Reports is NOT a respectable publication then the Tundra is not a respectable truck right. They (CR) recommended it, but since they (CR) are incompetent as you say the Tundra that CR recommended must be a POS. That is what your saying! You can’t pick and choose either CR reports knows what they are talking about and they recommended the Tundra due to it being a good vehicle and they where correct about the accelerator issue OR they where incorrect about the accelerator and are incompetent on their publications meaning the Tundra that IS recommended is a giant POS. Pick one, or it that too hard?

  19. Mickey says:

    Dpd Said in December 12th, 2009 @12:01 pm Really, so Mickey you are a well known whiner in the auto industry.

    If that’s the case then why are you here? I see you grew up some now your first letter is capitalized……

  20. Dpd says:

    Consumer reports Best and Worse New Cars 2010 on news stands until mid February 2010 page 39 and 164 show Tundra as RECOMENDED. So what is it?

    I think you all are just looking for somthing to whine about!!

  21. Mickey says:

    In 2007 C/R didn’t state anything on the Tundra 4×2. They didn’t recommend the 4×4. Now in the teests they did the 4×2 was pon top almost 90% of the time but yet still didn’t get recommended. Where as the GM version of the 4×2 wasn’t even tested but they got C/R’s truck of the year. Since then I don’t listen to C/R on anything they write. They are completely Bias on all they do. Now for the safety issue the Tundra had top honors since 2007 with the Insurance Institute. Now for NHTSA been given the Tundra 4 stars from the start in 2007. Why is it this year the Tundra gets 5 stars? Nothing has changed in the Tundra to warrant this 5 star rating. Again Bias comes to mind. So where do you want to start at with the ratings or who should we belive is right. There’s your cheese to go with your whine.

  22. DPD – First of all, Jeremy and I are two different people. It’s just common courtesy to be sure to get our names right. As for your assertion that “we” are trumpeting Consumer Reports when it’s good and criticizing it when it’s wrong, you are incorrect. Even if that were the case, so what? I call them like I see them. If you’re a consistent reader of the blog, you’ll note that I often criticize Consumer Reports and I rarely put emphasis on their recommendations. Here’s a post from 2 months ago:
    And a post from 2 years ago:
    My attitude towards Consumer Reports has never changed.
    dpd – Are you agreeing with my assessment of the accident, or did you just ignore my comment? 6 mistakes (perhaps 7) were made in the accident with the CHP officer, none of which can be attributed to the vehicle itself. Can you dispute the facts, or are you just blowing hot air? Despite the best efforts of NHTSA, Toyota, the L.A. Times, and Consumer Reports, NO ONE has conclusively proven there’s a problem with Toyota’s floor mats or accelerator. This recall is VOLUNTARY, and it’s likely an over-reaction. Credit Toyota for spending millions of dollars despite the fact they were never asked to do so by NHTSA.

  23. Dpd says:

    2007 Consumer Reports automatically would recommend Toyota’s due to their reputation. Well the Tundra had issues and they stated that they will no longer recommend Toyota’s just of the past performance. In the beginning of the 07 tundra they where recommended. They changed that in the last quarter of that year.

    If you don’t care what CR says then why the argument. Why do you care?

    As for the accident, it was a accident got it. So why the inconsiderate comments about the family. I totally understand how the NHTSA works. Has nothing to do with them.

  24. Mickey says:

    You have problems with facts Dpd. I said it maybe cold but facts. If that ‘s inconsiderate then so be it. I’m not the one who mention this guy was holier than the rest because he was a CHP. He didn’t use his training what more you want me to say. I’m not going to sugar coat it for you or his family members. If you’re all knowing then why don’t you read up on why do Police never list any mishaps as accidents. When it comes to vehicles there’s never an accident. They call them “Crashes”. The word accident claims no negligence involved. Wrong answer there Dpd. Negligence was on the part of the dealership for putting both mats and one of them not authorized for that car. If I wanted to be a jerk I would state the CHP guy was part of that negligence but I didn’t. So go learn the difference guy because crashes have been used for several years now in all law enforcement agencies. C/R pulled the total recommendation of both 4×4 and 4×2 Tundra’s in 2007. The recall was on the propeller shaft on 4×4’s, so why did they pull it and like I stated before that the 4×2 had about 90% of the categories tested on top but didn’t keep the recommendation. Nothing but bias can be said about that. Now why the arguement? Do we really have to spell out what C/R is doing? You can read it above. Now for your mature statement which you was so boldly stating:
    dpd Said in December 11th, 2009 @6:00 pm So CR must be wrong for recommending any Toyota/Lexas product. Just like the F-150 that you speak of they are both on the recommended list. As for Jason the idiot scientist, if you pull your head out of your a$$ that will not happen every time you try to breathe. I

  25. Mickey says:

    Also Dpd I still got my copy of the 2007 C/R. You took the class at NHTSA? Wow I bet that was amazing and you still say it’s NHTSA’s recall when Toyota voluntarily did the recall.

  26. Dpd, CR Recommending any vehicle is like having a blind man say you are pretty. HE may be right, he may be wrong but it doesn’t matter, HE’S BLIND. CR does great work with TV’s, Toasters, and Washing Machines. They have ALWAYS had a bad reputation with Automobiles. As we have already outlines through out this site, They have an agenda and it skews the results of their testing. This fact alone renders CR’s opinion worthless as it pertains to Automobiles. As for the writers in question at the LA Times, At least CR tries to hide there lack of objectivity.

    I am done arguing. You are oblivious to everyone else here laughing you to scorn and now I feel like a bully because you just can’t make a cohesive point to save yourself. You have made me question one of my tenets to live by, which is:

    Never argue with an idiot, they will drag you down and beat you with experiance.

    Either you lack idiot experiance or you proved that saying wrong.

    Please stop, your ignorance and beligerance is no longer fun or funny.

  27. L. Diavolo says:

    The LA Times is on a witch hunt for a non existent problem. Simple honest answers frustrate conspiracy lovers. Rember all the bad press about the Audi’s, ” Jumping into reverse”? Researchers never found any problem other than drivers stepping on the wrong pedal. How about th Suzuki ” roll over” problems? Same thing. When consumer reports was put to test the problem was their test, not the car.
    Check out the back ground of the reporters who wrote the article. Far left wing liberals, anti nucular power, finding radioactive water under the entire state of Nevada. The LA Times is going broke, and they are making up news to try and sell more papers. After it is printed in the Times, it is then quoted on the Times TV stations as being factual, when it is all conjecture. I canceled my Times subscribtion. Such BS.

  28. L. Diavolo – Here here. I was amazed to find out that the reporters behind these stories have also covered politics, travel, and cooking. Seems like such “hard-hitting” investigative reporting should be left to people who know something about cars.

  29. But their recommendation for Quiche was spot on!

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