All the evidence points to a coverup by Toyota in dealing with the more than 1,600 complaints and 34 deaths, alleged to be caused by their cars suddenly accelerating. The company told complaining owners for 7 years that their problems were due to faulty floor mats, including one owner that later died when his car crashed after suddenly accelerating ... with his floor mats stored in his trunk.
And new evidence just uncovered from internal Toyota memos shows how company executives bragged about saving $100 million in repairs and recalls by successfully negotiating with regulators to curtail some of these investigations.
Just last week a Toyota Vice President, Bob Carter, said at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando, FL that "Testing by Toyota, NHTSA, and Exponent, an outside consulting firm hired by Toyota, has found no evidence of problems with Toyota's electronics."
"There is no problem with the electronic throttle system in Toyotas," Carter said. "There's not anything that can even remotely lead you in that direction." Carter said Exponent was told to tear the components apart to try to find anything wrong and initial tests could find nothing.
While it may be true that during the short time Exponent ran their tests they found no evidence of unintended acceleration caused by the electronics, Carter's conclusion that "there is no problem" is neither accurate nor a logical conclusion. Two months of testing six or eight cars does not prove that there is not a problem. Statements like these continue to mislead the public and show Toyota is still not serious about discovering the true cause of unintended acceleration.
It's now time for Mr. Toyoda to move aside their marketing, PR and damage control people that just obfuscate the issue, and to take personal charge and do what's in the best interests of his customers, making safety the first priority, ahead of profit.
Here's what I would advise him to do:
- Instruct every engineer that has had any involvement in the design, manufacturing or testing of unintended acceleration to come forward with what they know and report their findings to you, Mr. Toyoda, directly.
- Request that every customer that's experienced the problem of unintended acceleration to bring their car into their Toyota dealer in exchange for a loaner.
- Bring 1,000 of Toyota's best engineers to the U.S. to fan out and examine the cars that have been turned in to the dealers. Subject these cars to extensive testing to try replicate the reported problems. It's much more likely that a population of cars that have experienced the problems will yield better results than testing a few new cars.
- Buy back samples of these cars that indicate anomalies and subject them to additional testing in Japan.
- Have this team of Toyota engineers present their findings for peer review to a team of U.S. experts in electronics, software, testing, and quality control from academia, the automotive industry, and NHTSA, and then report their findings directly to the public.
When Mr. Toyoda testifies in front of Congress this week, he has one chance to do the right thing. If he's smart he'll turn to his engineers to get to the bottom of the problems, not to those executives like Mr. Carter who still want us to believe there is not a problem.