Toyota’s Pinto Memo Moment Pt 2 – Hot Air’s Failed Yoda Moment.

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Karl over at Hot Air channels Yoda with a post titled “Begun, the Toyota war has…”. He insinuates the problem with the sudden acceleration in Toyota’s… well… it’s all the drivers fault, saying that they accidentally stepped on the gas instead of the brakes.   He quotes from a Detroit News article:

Experts say the number of fatalities linked to reports of uncontrolled acceleration of Toyota vehicles — 15 when the first recall was announced, and now 34 — isn’t a big number for a company that sells close to 2 million cars and trucks a year in the United States.

Most independent auto experts and investigators say unintended acceleration is most often caused by driver error; the driver, in a moment of panic, or in an unfamiliar vehicle, may accidentally step on the wrong pedal.

Thirty years ago, Audi faced damaging complaints that its cars were prone to unintended acceleration — allegations that U.S. safety regulators now say were never proven.

Similar complaints in the late 1990s against Chrysler Corp.’s Jeep Grand Cherokee turned up no defect, said Vines, who was then working for Chrysler. The problem was either a floor mat trapping the gas pedal, or people stepping on the gas, he said.

Lets take each claim in reverse order.

I’m not familiar with the Cherokee cases, though it is interesting to note that this report finds “Chrysler received reports of sudden acceleration as early as 1988. Internal documents and meeting notes indicate that, despite claims to the contrary, the company was reluctant to design and install a gear-shift interlock unless it was compelled to do so by government regulators or competitive pressures.”

The Audi problems I do remember. Funny how, when both Audi and Chrysler moved the pedals farther apart, and installed a brake-to-shift device, the percentage of new SUA claims also declined. That is a rather strong correlation. Note also, that unlike those problems, brake-to-shift mechanisms are standard safety equipment in all Toyota models having these problems. Also note that, just because the NHSTA closes an investigation without finding the cause of the problem, that does not mean that there is not a problem. It just means they are not able to pin-point the cause.

The Detroit News article states that experts, keep in mind they are unnamed, blame most instances of sudden unintended acceleration on driver error. In many cases, this may be the case (more so for the Audi case than the Chrysler case… maybe).

And now, to the stats. Karl notes that one report puts the number of complaints of sudden unintended acceleration , or SUA,  among Toyota brands at roughly 2,262.    34 deaths may not seem like a lot, but it is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you are a friend or relative to one of the deceased.  Unlike the Ford / Bridgestone recall, where the cause of those crashes can be easily determined, this problem, as I stated in my earlier post, are much harder to diagnose. Chances are there are probably more deaths and accidents due to the sudden acceleration problem than are currently recognized, and the number of recognized instances of SUA will surely increase as more instances of Toyota involved accidents are looked into. And, I wonder, how many instances of crashes or deaths have been reported involving Toyota vehicles BEFORE they switched to the drive-by-wire technology?

Here is a clue to answer that question. Owner complaints among Toyota owners begin showing up in insurance reports in 2004. Here is  the time-line from 200 through the present, showing the incidence of recognized increases in sudden acceleration problems:

* 2000: Toyota launches program known as “Construction of Cost Competitiveness for the 21st Century” with the aim of cutting costs of 180 key car parts by 30 percent, saving nearly $10 billion by 2005.

* February 2004: NHTSA opens a review of electronic throttle control malfunction complaints in the 2002 and 2003 Lexus ES300. The investigation is closed in July 2004 without a defect finding.

* February/March 2004: Private Insurer State Farm notifies NHTSA of a worrying trend in claims of unintended acceleration in 2002 and 2003 model year Lexus ES300s and Toyota Camrys.

* December, 31, 2004: Toyota vehicles accounted for about 20 percent of all unintended acceleration complaints filed with NHTSA in 2004, up from 4 percent in 2000.

* August 2005: NHTSA begins a review of concerns about the electronic throttle and uncontrollable acceleration on 2002-05 model year Camry, Solara and Lexus ES models. The investigation is closed in January 2006 without a defect finding.

* December 31, 2009: Toyota accounted for 33 percent of all unintended acceleration complaints filed with NHTSA in 2009.

From 4 to 20 to 33 percent is a tremendous increase. But this is easily explained. I guess all those idiot drivers who were buying Audi’s and Cherokee’s in the 80’s and 90’s decided to go out and buy Toyota’s in the new Century. Go figure.

PS. Karl bases an awful lot of his argument on the issue of credibility of some of the people involved in the fact-finding of this case, and on the theory that the Obama administration wants to crush a major opponent of the US partnered General Government Motors. Never mind that there may be real public safety issues here, and that the constant attacks on all things Obama get quite tiresome after a while (didn’t vote for him BTW). But I really resent the ad-hominem attacks against Sean Kane and Joan Claybrook. Each is summarily slandered and dismissed due to their past ties to one Ralph Nader. Hey, you may not like him, and he may now be “bat-shit crazy”, but the cars of today are a hell of a lot safer due to his efforts. Anyway, to me, these attacks are no different than the “in the pocket of big oil” smears used against any scientist and bloggers, myself included, who doesn’t buy into the Global Warming orthodoxy, and is called a “Flat Earther” or “denialist”.

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