Toyota Unintended Acceleration Hearings Summary
This week a congressional committee interviewed a handful of people claiming to be unintended acceleration victims, safety experts, and Toyota execs. While Toyota has focused this week on enhanced recall measures and a re-commitment to quality, the media has focused on rampant speculation.
Here’s a breakdown of all the major developments from the hearings:
1.Toyota execs actually apologized. Both Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda and Toyota USA President James Lentz offered apologies. This may be symbolic to some, but it represents a shift in thinking at Toyota in Japan.
2. Exponent has an unlimited budget. Jim Lentz testified that:
“in December we asked Exponent, a world-class engineering and scientific consulting firm, to conduct a comprehensive, independent analysis of our electronic throttle control system with an unlimited budget”
That’s right – an unlimited budget to find the problem. Exponent is world-renowned for their skills in technical investigations and engineering. They’ve been hired by GM, Ford, the Department of Defense, FEMA, and countless other large companies and governments. Exponent was hired to investigate both the Oklahoma City bombing and the September 11th attacks. Giving Exponent a blank check should be universally viewed as a major commitment to finding any potential problems. [Read this PDF to learn more about Exponent]
3. Sean Kane works for trial lawyers. Kane, who has been cited as a “safety expert” by the L.A Times and other news sources, reluctantly disclosed that his company’s principal source of revenue is working with trial attorneys in product liability studies. One automotive executive said that Kane is one of many “supposed safety advocates who are actually just shills for trial attorneys,” – and that auto exec works for Ford! Consider Kane’s testimony to be less than independent.
4. NHTSA is a clearing house for stupid consumer complaints. When many “experts” discuss the Toyota’s unintended acceleration issue, they often cite the number of complaints NHTSA has received as evidence or proof of a problem. However, NHTSA receives thousands of ridiculous and absurd complaints every year. Here’s just one example:
The wife of the driver in a $40,000 Mercedes SUV in West Bloomfield, Minn., complained that her husband was commuting at 20 mph on a road with one-inch of snow and turned his steering wheel but — despite new tires — the three-ton SUV slid straight ahead. “He ended up smashing the front end on a huge stone and ricocheting to a fire hydrant,” she said.
Could this account be evidence of a safety problem? Possibly. More likely, it’s just simple physics. While this isn’t meant to dismiss all of the NHTSA complaints against Toyota, it should serve as a warning that not all NHTSA complaints are equal. The volume of complaints doesn’t necessarily mean anything.
5. David Gilbert is a charlatan. Dave Gilbert, an assistant professor of automotive technology at Southern Illinois University, claims that Toyota’s electronic throttle controls are flawed because they do not “trap” an error that could cause unintended acceleration. Gilbert “proved” this by short-circuiting two throttle outputs that, according to Toyota, would be impossible to short-circuit accidentally. A noted auto journalist has referred to Gilbert’s claims and the ABC news report as potentially fraudulent, and at least highly suspicious.
What We Have Learned
No one has any proof that Toyota’s electronic throttle system is flawed, only accusations.
Toyota has demonstrated confidence in their electronic throttle control systems by giving a blank check to a world-renowned engineering analysis and testing firm.
Sean Kane and David Gilbert are experts with dubious qualifications.
Toyota execs “negotiated” their way out of a floor mat recall at some point in 2009, bragging that they saved $100 million in the process.
Congress is just as much about grandstanding as they are about finding the truth.
Comments – any major revelations we’ve missed?
Filed Under: Auto News