Toyota Recall Fallout Continues; Solution May be Coming

By Chris Haak

01.29.2010

IMG_2367We’ve already published several articles on the topic, but Toyota’s massive recall and its related public-relations debacle continues to gain momentum.  In addition to the stop-sale that we reported on several days ago, many entities are now taking the recall a step further.  Perhaps this is out of genuine concern for the welfare of Toyota drivers, perhaps it is out of concern of being sued if something happened before the affected vehicle was fixed.  My sometimes-jaded viewpoint says that it’s the latter, but perhaps it’s the former, or a combination of the two.

Today, several different entities reacted similarly to Toyota’s recall:

  • Manheim Auction Group, the country’s largest auction group and which comprises over 50% of the wholesale auction market, recommended today that its member auctions immediately cease sale of Toyota cars and trucks affected by the recalls
  • Hertz, Enterprise, Avis, Dollar, and Thrifty rental car outfits all stopped renting the recalled Toyotas to the public
  • CarMax suspended sales of all recalled Toyotas, new and used (CarMax owns one Toyota franchise and over 100 used-car dealerships)

Toyota seems to be standing behind the supplier of the sticking accelerator pedals, CTS, Inc. of Elkhart, Indiana, as the companies are testing a redesigned accelerator pedal design that eliminates the apparent sticking problem that potentially occurs in the recalled vehicles.  CTS is ramping up production at its three US plants to get the replacement pedals to the factory as soon as possible, and is also working with Toyota to develop a solution for in-service cars, which will likely not involve full pedal/mechanism replacement for the new part.

The recall has spread from North America to Europe and China as well.  The company has not yet determined the number of affected vehicles, but it could top 2 million.  In China, the company submitted an application to recall 75,000 RAV4 crossovers.  All of the affected vehicles in Europe and China have pedals made by CTS.  Japanese-built Toyotas do not have the same issue, apparently, as their accelerator pedals are of a slightly different design and are manufactured by Denso.

Toyota has not done a good job of communicating the details of the problem and its solution to dealers or customers.  Aside from the press release that we included in the last article we had on the subject, there has been very little public word from the company.  Many were ready to praise Toyota’s extreme action of stopping all sale and production of affected models, which certainly sounded to many (myself included) as moving toward doing the right thing.  However, today the NHTSA told Automotive News that Toyota is legally forbidden from delivering new cars with a known safety defect.  So, the dealers could still legally sell the cars, but couldn’t deliver them to customers until the defect has been addressed.  Also, with potentially upwards of 8 million vehicles affected worldwide by this series of recalls, it will take months – if not longer – for Toyota and its suppliers and dealers to produce enough replacement parts and to schedule service visits to repair the defective parts.

My wife drives a Toyota, but it’s not one of the affected models (it’s a Sienna), so my household has not been personally impacted by the recall.  Nonetheless, a concerned friend at church asked me how our van has been (she drives a 2009 Corolla, by the way), and I didn’t know what she was talking about until she reminded me to just put it in neutral if the pedal sticks.  I have a coworker who is understandably anxious about driving her 2007 Camry until the safety issue is resolved.  Lunch conversation today kept detouring back to the sudden quality and safety problems that Toyota is experiencing.

Great companies are often defined not by their successes, but in the way they deal with adversity and problems.  Look no further than Johnson & Johnson’s reaction to the 1982 Tylenol cyanide poisonings for an example of proper crisis management, thanks to its famous credo.  More recently, when the just-launched Lexus LS400’s 8,000-car recall in 1989 was another example of taking a terrible situation, doing the right thing, and coming out of the crisis stronger.

The Lexus recall that “old Toyota” handled so deftly 21 years ago was far, far smaller in scope than this current monster is, but the company could certainly learn some lessons from itself.  Paying for rental cars for its affected customers while their vehicles are repaired is the least of what it can do, and it should also come up with a solid plan to communicate its next steps to all stakeholders, especially dealers and consumers, and also come up with a plan to somehow compensate its customers for their lost time and the fear that many suddenly have in driving their previously-safe transportation appliances.  Toyota has a lot to lose in this situation, but could come out of this problem – if its response is managed properly – without too big of a black eye.

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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6 Comments

  1. Toyota seems to be really flailing around in this situation, trying to find the right approach and the right tone for their public statements. Surprising, really.

  2. This reminds me of the Firestone tire issue with Explorers a few years ago. In each instance, the danger seems to be primarily based on user error than the actual defect of the vehicle. With the Explorers, tire failure, even at high speed, should not have caused the widespread carnage reported in the media. Car and Driver conducted a test of Explorers (http://www.caranddriver.com/features/01q1/why_are_ford_explorers_crashing_-column) to determine how the vehicles reacted to sudden tire failure and found the cars reacted no differently than other vehicles suffering a blowout. It seems to be the same with these Toyotas. Even in vehicles where the accelerator sticks open, the brakes should be more than sufficient to stop the car. And as noted above, shifting the transmission into neutral also works. Again, Car and Driver conducted a test (http://www.caranddriver.com/features/09q4/how_to_deal_with_unintended_acceleration-tech_dept) that showed that applying the brakes or shifting into neutral will stop the vehicle. Obviously Toyota needs to replace any defect parts, but the panic of runaway Toyotas seems like another media fabrication.

  3. It seems that Toyota engineers have rigged some fix involving metal shims around the accelerator pedal, and they’ve already started shipping those out, so this will probably quiet down quickly.

    The residual effect on Toyota’s quality rep may last for a long time though.

  4. Luke:

    All your points are spot on.

    It does seem that the outcry from the NHTSA Administrator is a bit theatrical. And it comes at a time when a presidential administration, which not curried much favor with a public that overwhelmingly voted it into office just 14 months ago, needs a boost in the polls.

    Nearly one year ago a 4 year old Airbus 330 operated by Air France plummeted into the Atlantic killing all aboard. There are at least 1000 of this very aircraft type in operation which fly 100,000s miles every day. One fatal crash occurs in violent weather that the flight crew did not fly around. Prior to the June 2009 loss, Airbus had advised airlines operating the A330 about incidents of wind speed sensing pitot tubes made by Thales potentially icing over in abnormal weather conditions at high altitude. The icing could send false errant data to pilots making aircraft control an issue. Air France, having already advised pilots to fly “more gently” if the circumstances manifested, was in the process of swapping out the pitot tubes for a revised design. The aircraft which fell into the Atlantic did not yet get the replacement wind speed sensors. The EAA and the FAA both mandated replacement of the tubes within months after the accident.

    Yet without a smoking gun, neither Airbus nor either the EAA or FAA was so irresponsible to claim the design compromises of the Thales pitot tube as having been the singular or even a major cause the loss of control of the AF A-330.

    A “smoking gun” might have been contained in the cockpit voice recorder. The fact that it will never be recovered leaves the possibility of human error open as an explanation for the loss of the aircraft.

    Maybe this event will be the final straw that will drive all manufacturers to include the automotive equivalent of a “black box” in all vehicles. The motoring public has a reasonable expectation to expect that vehicles meet contemporaneous standards for safety and reliability. Unfortunately the motoring public cannot reasonably expect a “perfect car” that is impervious to any mechanical failure. That simply would not be economically feasible.

  5. Luke:

    The consensus in the tire industry in the wake of Firestone/ Ford was that motorists were not at all vigilant about maintaining proper tire inflations in the cars. Consequently the DOT mandated TMPS (Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems) across the board with model year 2008.

    With increased driver distraction and resultant litigation, one can foresee “black-box type devices” which can record driver inputs and maintenance becoming standard in all vehicles in the near future.

    I too read with interest the C&D article you refer to. While it was likely less scientific then tests performed by Toyota, it does bear out that motorists suffer from a bit of a learning curve with push button stop/ start systems.

    The article also bears out that most people aren’t fully depressing their brakes – in all out emergency braking. (One theory is that for the cause is that lots of drivers merely pivot there toe to reach the brakes while their heels are planted at the accelerator.) In the case of the Toyota Camry subject to the floor mat recall with WOT at 70 mph it only took the car 15 more feet to come to a complete stop when compared to Closed Throttle.

    That difference in stopping distances was in fact comparable to the performance of an Infiniti G37 under similar circumstances.

  6. Sometimes when I can’t sleep, I think about Toyotas and that usually makes me nod off quickly.

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