NHTSA Findings on UA on Toyota.com

Toyota Statement in Response to NHTSA/NASA Study

Feb. 8, 2011 — In response to the publication by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of an extensive review of the electronic throttle control systems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, conducted with the assistance of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s Chief Quality Officer for North America, said:
“Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence (ETCS-i) and we appreciate the thoroughness of their review.  We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America’s foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles.  We hope this important study will help put to rest unsupported speculation about Toyota’s ETCS-i, which is well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur.
“We will continue to develop and equip Toyota and Lexus vehicles with industry-leading safety technologies, including many based on breakthroughs in sophisticated electronics systems.  We will also continue to cooperate fully with NHTSA and respected outside experts in order to help ensure that our customers have the utmost confidence in the safety and reliability of our vehicles.  Everyone at Toyota – all 30,000 of our team members in the United States and the many thousands of Americans at our dealers and suppliers across the country – is focused on listening to our customers and constantly improving our products and service.”

Regarding the safety and reliability of Toyota vehicles with ETCS-i, the company also noted:

•    Electronic throttle control systems have long been standard across the automobile industry, and they provide great benefits to consumers.
•    Toyota’s ETCS-i has performed reliably in more than 40 million cars and trucks sold around the world, including more than 16 million in the United States.
•    This system has also made possible significant safety advances such as vehicle stability control and traction control, which are among the five sophisticated accident avoidance technologies in Toyota’s Star Safety System.
•    These enhancements, along with Toyota’s Smart Stop Technology braking system, are now standard on all the new vehicles Toyota manufactures for the North American market.

Could Runaway Prius Have Been Faked?

Posted: Mar. 12, 2010 10:03 a.m.

Yesterday we told you about doubts Edmunds Inside Line raised about a California man who claimed his Prius had raced out of control. Today, more people are looking into the story.

Jalopnik thinks James Sikes, the man in the incident, may have had a motive: “James Sikes, the San Diego runaway Toyota Prius driver, filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and now has over $700,000 in debt. According to one anonymous tipster, we’re also told he hasn’t been making payments on his Prius,” they write, adding, “it’s potential motivation for wanting to find an out — any out — on paying for the vehicle.”

Jalopnik’s questions about Sikes’ motives add to questions Inside Line raised about the story.  Inside Line pointed out that it’s relatively easy to shift the Prius into neutral, even at highway speeds.  They also found it odd that though he claimed to be doing well over 90, Sikes managed to avoid an accident on a California highway for over 20 minutes — while panicking.

The Associated Press says the runaway Prius story may be reinforcing itself. “Experts on consumer psychology say the relentless negative media attention Toyota has received since the fall makes it much more likely that drivers will mistake anything unexpected — or even a misplaced foot — for actual danger.” AP adds, “In just the first 10 weeks of this year, 272 complaints have been filed nationwide for speed control problems with the Prius, according to an Associated Press analysis of unverified complaints received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. By comparison, only 74 complaints were filed in all of last year, and just eight the year before that.”

Autoblog Green comments, “We’ll let the authorities investigate these latest cases and determine as best they can what happened there, but we also want the madness to calm down. Problems should be fixed, sure, but just because some people have problems doesn’t mean everyone does.”

The day after the Prius incident in California, according to reports, a Prius accelerated suddenly in New York. In that incident, a woman was pulling out of her driveway when she says the accelerator stuck, causing the Prius to surge forward into a stonewall. No one was hurt in the incident.

However, Richard Schmidt, a professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, writes in the New York Times that the kind of driveway scenario the woman describes is a prime example of driver error being mistaken for a mechanical problem. Shchmidt has spent much of his career investigating cases of unintended acceleration for automakers.  His work has found that reports of unintended acceleration “typically happened when the driver first got into the car and started it. After turning on the ignition, the driver would intend to press lightly on the brake pedal while shifting from park to drive (or reverse), and suddenly the car would leap forward (or backward). Drivers said that continued pressing on the brake would not stop the car; it would keep going until it crashed.”  Schmidt adds, “Drivers believed that something had gone wrong in the acceleration system, and that the brakes had failed.”

When engineers would examine the cars, they’d find nothing was wrong.  Schmidt writes, “Several researchers hypothesized how a driver, intending to apply the brake pedal to keep the car from creeping, would occasionally press the accelerator instead. Then, surprised that the car moved so much, he would try pressing harder. Of course, if his right foot was actually on the accelerator, the throttle would open and the car would move faster.”  The result? “This would then lead the driver to press the ‘brake’ harder still, and to bring about even more acceleration. Eventually, the car would be at full throttle, until it crashed. The driver’s foot would be all the way to the floor, giving him the impression that the brakes had failed.”

Of course, Schmidt’s reasoning doesn’t explain the reports of the runaway Prius in California, and it doesn’t prove that nothing was wrong with the Prius in New York.  But, driver error plus increased publicity may explain some of the spike in reports of problems with Toyota.

Check out the latest Toyota recall news and information, including how the company’s recent troubles affect our rankings. If you’re in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year’s best cars as well as this month’s best car deals.

Here are some other good reads as well………

Unintended Acceleration Expert Provides His Perspective in the New York Times

In a column in Wednesday’s New York Times, Richard Schmidt, professor emeritus at the University of California, Los Angeles and the author of a well known study on unintended acceleration, provided his perspective on this issue in response to reports that the federal government may require brake override systems on new vehicles.

Approaching the issue from a historical perspective, Prof. Schmidt noted: “From the mid-1980s until 2000, thousands of incidents of sudden acceleration were reported in all makes and models of cars (and buses, tractors and golf carts). Then, as now, the incidents were relatively rare among car crashes generally, but they were nevertheless frequent and dangerous enough to upset automakers, drivers and the news media.  But when engineers examined these vehicles post-crash, they found nothing that could account for what the drivers had reported.”

To read the full column, click here

Two Professors Say Satisfied Toyota Customers Protect the Brand
Two Rice University management professors say in an op-ed piece in the Houston Chronicle that the media frenzy on Toyota has “focused on vivid yet highly unrepresentative events that ignore the most important constituents: Toyota’s current customers.” Vikas Mittal and Utpal Dholakia note that Toyota has a large base of unwavering loyal customers who “drive their Toyotas day in and day out and experience reliable and trouble-free performance.” That positive experience, accumulated over decades, “insulate” the brand from long-term damage. “When customers are highly satisfied and consistently so (and consistency in the key), they are prone to see the occasional performance lapse as an anomaly.” They go on to say Toyota has that “brand insulation effect” and can recover from its current difficulties. To read the full column, click on the link below:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/editorial/outlook/6909344.html

Toyota Didn’t Pay Stanford Professor for Unintended Acceleration Analysis

In light of recent press reports, Toyota issued a statement Thursday making it clear the company didn’t compensate Stanford University professor Chris Gerdes for his analysis of unintended acceleration claims made by Southern Illinois University professor David Gilbert.

News reports have implied that Toyota’s support of Stanford’s Center for Automotive Research may have influenced Gerdes’ analysis, which challenged Gilbert’s claims. Yet, Toyota is only one of many auto manufacturers that support the center. Toyota also supports other automotive programs, including the Division of Automotive Technology at Southern Illinois University, where Gilbert teaches. Such support is common in the auto industry and does not mean that independent professors will naturally side with corporate donors.

To read the entire statement, click on: http://pressroom.toyota.com/pr/tms/toyota-update-regarding-dr-chris-155054.aspx.

2-second Prius video causes headache for ABC News

By DAVID BAUDER

NEW YORK (AP) – 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 Gawker.com 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.

Akio Toyoda writes The Washington Post

washingtonpost.com


Toyota‘s plan to repair its public image

By Akio Toyoda
Tuesday, February 9, 2010; A17

More than 70 years ago, Toyota entered the auto business based on a simple, but powerful, principle: that Toyota would build the highest-quality, safest and most reliable automobiles in the world. The company has always put the needs of our customers first and made the constant improvement of our vehicles a top priority. That is why 80 percent of all Toyotas sold in the United States over the past 20 years are still on the road today.

When consumers purchase a Toyota, they are not simply purchasing a car, truck or van. They are placing their trust in our company. The past few weeks, however, have made clear that Toyota has not lived up to the high standards we set for ourselves. More important, we have not lived up to the high standards you have come to expect from us. I am deeply disappointed by that and apologize. As the president of Toyota, I take personal responsibility. That is why I am personally leading the effort to restore trust in our word and in our products.

For much of Toyota’s history, we have ensured the quality and reliability of our vehicles by placing a device called an andon cord on every production line — and empowering any team member to halt production if there’s an assembly problem. Only when the problem is resolved does the line begin to move again.

Two weeks ago, I pulled the andon cord for our company. I ordered production of eight models in five plants across North America temporarily stopped so that we could focus on fixing our customers’ vehicles that might be affected by sticking accelerator pedals. Today, Toyota team members and dealers across North America are working around the clock to repair all recalled vehicles.

But to regain the trust of American drivers and their families, more is needed. We are taking responsibility for our mistakes, learning from them and acting immediately to address the concerns of consumers and independent government regulators.

First, I have launched a top-to-bottom review of our global operations to ensure that problems of this magnitude do not happen again and that we not only meet but exceed the high safety standards that have defined our long history. As part of this, we will establish an Automotive Center of Quality Excellence in the United States, where a team of our top engineers will focus on strengthening our quality management and quality control across North America.

Second, to ensure that our quality-control operations are in line with best industry practices, we will ask a blue-ribbon safety advisory group composed of respected outside experts in quality management to independently review our operations and make sure that we have eliminated any deficiencies in our processes. The findings of these experts will be made available to the public, as will Toyota’s responses to these findings.

Third, we fully understand that we need to more aggressively investigate complaints we hear directly from consumers and move more quickly to address any safety issues we identify. That is what we are doing by addressing customer concerns about the Prius and Lexus HS250h anti-lock brake systems.

We also are putting in place steps to do a better job within Toyota of sharing important quality and safety information across our global operations. This shortcoming contributed to the current situation. With respect to sticking accelerator pedals, we failed to connect the dots between problems in Europe and problems in the United States because the European situation related primarily to right-hand-drive vehicles.

Toyota will increase its outreach to government agencies charged with protecting the safety of motorists and passengers. I have spoken with U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and given him my personal assurance that lines of communications with safety agencies and regulators will be kept open, that we will communicate more frequently and that we will be more vigilant in responding to those officials on all matters.

In recent years, much has been written about what we call “the Toyota Way” — the values and principles at the heart of our company. Chief among these is our unwavering commitment to continuous improvement: going to the source of a problem and fixing it. While problems with our cars have been rare over the years, the issues that Toyota is addressing today are by far the most serious we have ever faced.

But great companies learn from their mistakes, and we know that we have to win back the trust of our customers by adhering to the very values on which that trust was first built. The hundreds of thousands of men and women at Toyota operations worldwide — including the 172,000 team members and dealers in North America — are among the best in the auto industry. Whatever problems have occurred within our company, the strength and commitment to fix them resides within our company as well.

You have my commitment that Toyota will revitalize the simple but powerful principle that has guided us for 50 years: Toyota will build the highest-quality, safest and most reliable automobiles in the world.

The writer is president of Toyota Motor Co.

BrionStapp@interstatetoyota.com

Toyota Announces Details of Remedy to Address Potential Accelerator Pedal Entrapment

Torrance, Calif., November 25, 2009 – – Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (TMS) announced today details of the vehicle-based remedy to address the root cause of the potential risk for floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals in certain Toyota and Lexus models. Toyota issued a consumer safety advisory on September 29 on this issue and has, as an interim measure, commenced the mailing of safety notices to certain Toyota and Lexus owners on October 30.
The models involved are: 2007 to 2010 MY (model year) Camry, 2005 to 2010 MY Avalon, 2004 to 2009 MY Prius, 2005 to 2010 MY Tacoma, 2007 to 2010 MY Tundra, 2007 to 2010 MY ES350, 2006 to 2010 MY IS250, and 2006 to 2010 MY IS 350.
The specific measures of the vehicle-based remedy are as follows:
1. The shape of the accelerator pedal will be reconfigured to address the risk of floor mat entrapment, even when an older-design all-weather floor mat or other inappropriate floor mat is improperly attached, or is placed on top of another floor mat.  For the ES350, Camry, and Avalon models involved, the shape of the floor surface underneath will also be reconfigured to increase the space between the accelerator pedal and the floor.
2. Vehicles with any genuine Toyota or Lexus accessory all-weather floor mat will be provided with newly-designed replacement driver- and front passenger-side all-weather floor mats.
In addition, as a separate measure independent of the vehicle-based remedy, Toyota will install a brake override system onto the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS350 and IS 250 models as an extra measure of confidence. This system cuts engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedals.
Toyota is in the process of completing development of these actions and for the ES350, Camry, and Avalon will start notifying owners of the involved vehicles via first-class mail by the end of this year.  The remedy process regarding the other five models will occur on a rolling schedule during 2010.
Dealers will be trained and equipped to make the necessary modifications to these models starting at the beginning of 2010.  Initially, dealers will be instructed on how to reshape the accelerator pedal for the repair.  As replacement parts with the same shape as the modified pedal become available, they will be made available to dealers for the repair, beginning around April 2010.  Customers who have had the remedy completed will have the opportunity to receive a new pedal if they desire.
In the meantime, owners of the involved vehicles are asked to take out any removable driver’s floor mat and not replace it with any other floor mat until they are notified of the vehicle-based remedy, as notified in the consumer safety advisory and the interim notice.
The brake override system will be made standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus product lines starting with January 2010 production of ES350 and Camry and is scheduled to be incorporated into new production of most models by the end of 2010.
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.
Owners who have further questions are asked to visit www.toyota.com or www.lexus.com or contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus Customer Assistance at 1-800-255-3987.
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The latest news about Toyota’s consumer safety advisory for potential floor mat interference with the accelerator pedal in certain Toyota and Lexus vehicles:
Toyota USA Update on Safety Advisory – Video (Nov. 2, 2009/Updated Nov. 5, 2009)
NHTSA report (Nov. 2, 2009)
Toyota owner letter (Nov. 2, 2009)
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NOTE TO CONSUMERS: We’ve received a number of comments and questions about the floor mat issue and understand the safety concerns. We want to be responsive, but the Toyota USA Newsroom is not intended as a place for consumer complaints, or detailed information about any vehicle features, specs or capabilities. These types of concerns are best handled by our Customer Experience Center where they will be routed to the appropriate customer service representative for Toyota, Scion or Lexus. You can reach our customer service representatives by calling 1-800-331-4331. Prefer to email or chat? Simply access our website email or live chat links for Toyota, Scion or Lexus.
MEDIA CONTACTS ONLY:  Toyota Environmental, Safety and Quality Communications
Brian Lyons    (310) 468-2552
John Hanson  (310) 468-4718

Media Web site: www.toyotanewsroom.com
Public Web site: http://www.toyota.com and http://www.lexus.com