Tag Archive | "safety recall"

Drivers Complain that Toyota's Fixes Didn't Work


At least 15 Toyota drivers have complained to U.S. safety officials that their cars sped up by themselves even after being fixed under recalls for sticky gas pedals or floor mat problems, according to an Associated Press analysis.

The development raises questions about whether Toyota’s repairs will bring an end to the cases of wild, uncontrolled acceleration or if there may be electronic causes behind the complaints that have dogged the automaker.

Although the allegations were unverified by the agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Wednesday it was contacting people who have complained about acceleration problems even after repairs were done under two large recalls. The agency wants to hear from others who have had similar troubles, it said.

“If Toyota owners are still experiencing sudden acceleration incidents after taking their cars to the dealership, we want to know about it,” agency administrator David Strickland said in a statement.

The new complaints raised eyebrows in Congress, which has held three hearings on the recalls in the past week and is investigating Toyota’s safety problems.

“I am deeply concerned that NHTSA has received this many reports of possible sudden unanticipated acceleration even after these vehicles have received Toyota’s recommended fix,” said Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, who serves on one of the committees investigating Toyota.

“It’s critical that we get to the bottom of this problem as quickly as possible.”

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said Wednesday the company was investigating the complaints, though it remains confident in its recall fixes. Teams of engineers are being mobilized to check into the complaints, he said.

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House Panel Pulls Contested Toyota Documents from Website


WASHINGTON – A congressional panel that posted documents Friday from a corporate whistleblower that appeared deeply critical of Toyota Motor Corp. removed them Monday from its Web site, The Detroit News reported.

The documents, subpoenaed from a former Toyota lawyer now suing the automaker, suggested that “Toyota deliberately withheld records that it was legally required to produce in response to discovery orders in litigation,” Rep. Ed Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said Friday.

A spokeswoman for Towns, Jenny Rosenberg, said the committee had taken down the online documents and was trying to verify whether they came from Toyota.

Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss said the automaker’s outside legal counsel, Ted Hester of King & Spalding in Washington, D.C., requested the removal of the documents, which he said were subject to Toyota’s attorney-client privilege, from the site.

The committee’s decision to remove the documents comes as Toyota officials prepared for the third hearing in two weeks into the company’s and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s handling of two major Toyota vehicle recalls.

David Strickland, the new head of NHTSA, considered too green a week ago to testify before Congress, will appear today before the Senate Commerce Committee probing the same topic. The session starts at 10 a.m.

Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide in the past three months, including some 6 million in the U.S., mostly to prevent uncontrolled acceleration of Toyota and Lexus vehicles linked to 2,600 accidents since 2001.

For Toyota, even more damaging than the size of the recalls are allegations that the Japanese automaker was slow to acknowledge defects, or possibly concealed them. Towns asked Toyota on Friday to respond to the charges in the documents obtained from former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller that Towns called troubling.

Toyota said in a statement last week that it “strives to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards in its legal and regulatory practices. It is not uncommon, however, for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation.”

A Texas court had blocked Biller from releasing the documents, but the congressional subpoena superseded that ruling.

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GM Recalling 1.3M Vehicles Over Steering Problems


DETROIT – General Motors Co. is recalling 1.3 million compact cars in North America to address a power steering problem that has been linked to 14 crashes and one injury, Reuters reported.

U.S. safety regulators opened an investigation on Jan. 27 into approximately 905,000 Cobalt models in the United States after receiving more than 1,100 complaints of power steering failures. The complaints included 14 crashes and one injury.

The recall covers the 2005-2010 model year Chevrolet Cobalt and 2007-2010 Pontiac G5 in the United States; 2005-2006 Pontiac Pursuit sold in Canada, and the 2005-2006 Pontiac G4 sold in Mexico, GM said in a statement.

GM said it told the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the voluntary recall on Monday after concluding its own investigation that began in 2009.

GM said the affected vehicles can be still be “safely controlled” but it may require greater steering effort under 15 mph (24 kph). Drivers will see a warning light and hear a chime if the power steering fails.

“After our in-depth investigation, we found that this is a condition that takes time to develop. It tends to occur in older models out of warranty,” GM Vice President of Quality Jamie Hresko said in the statement.

“Recalling these vehicles is the right thing to do for our customers’ peace of mind,” he said.

GM said it is currently developing a remedy to fix the problem and will notify customers when the plan is finalized.

The recall comes at a time of heighted public and regulatory scrutiny over vehicle safety issues in the wake of massive recalls by Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota global quality control chief Shinichi Sasaki and North American President Yoshimi Inaba are scheduled to appear before a Senate committee on Tuesday for a third hearing on its handling of consumer complaints about sudden acceleration.

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Toyota Acknowledges U.S.-Japan Disconnect


Toyota Motor Corp. has spent 20 years telling U.S. consumers how deeply it has sunk its roots into America.

But in congressional testimony last week, Toyota executives acknowledged that the home office in Japan continues to call the shots in its biggest market, Automotive News reported.

The disconnect between Toyota U.S.A. and Toyota Japan, as well as Toyota manufacturing and Toyota sales in the United States, partly accounts for the giant’s current blizzard of problems, recalls, lawsuits and public scoldings, according to comments made during hours of congressional testimony last week.

Even as Toyota’s U.S. manufacturing group is running print ads in Kentucky, Ohio and Indiana boasting that it is “dedicated to our community,” corporate executives faced questions in Washington on how U.S. consumer concerns got lost in Japan.

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. and Toyota’s highest-ranking U.S. sales executive, admitted under Capitol Hill questioning last week that decisions about whether to recall U.S. products for safety issues are all made in Japan.

Asked if any of Toyota’s safety personnel report to him, Lentz said they do not. And he admitted that the centralized control of product issues in Japan had made it difficult for U.S. voices to be heard.

“We did not do a good job of sharing information around the globe,” Lentz testified, attempting to explain why Toyota responded slowly to three years of U.S. consumer reports of unintended acceleration in some of its models. “Most of the flow was one-way.”

Lentz said U.S. customers’ complaints about safety issues — as well as complaints made even earlier by Toyota customers in the United Kingdom — went directly to engineering departments in Japan.

He said Toyota’s growth in North America had outstripped its ability to employ U.S. engineering personnel to support it.

“The complexity of our product line grew,” he testified. “We outgrew our engineering resources. We had strategies to deal with that, but the strategies didn’t work.”

The acknowledgements stand in contrast to Toyota’s marketing efforts to portray itself as an automaker with an American identity.

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Toyota Crisis Puts Spotlight on Auto Electronics


DETROIT – Investigations into whatever is lurking behind Toyota’s crisis of quality have put a spotlight on all that can go wrong with auto electronics — the growing number of wires, sensors and computer chips that have profoundly changed the automobile in the last decade, The Associated Press reported.

Though no smoking circuit has been found so far, a picture is emerging that shows the automobile industry’s technology is racing ahead of quality-control testing and regulators. It’s troubling not only for Toyota owners but for drivers of any modern car that’s basically a computer on wheels.

Toyota insists that electronics played no role in the unintended acceleration that has sparked its massive recalls, and no one has been able to disprove it.

Lawyers, regulators, engineers and politicians aren’t so sure.

The auto industry has been moving at Pentium speed since the late 1990s to replace mechanical cables and other devices with computers to control everything from brakes to throttles to power steering. Automakers say electronics have made vehicles safer with devices such as air bags and antilock brakes. It’s also made cars more fuel efficient, cleaner and, usually, more reliable.

Still, things can go wrong and diagnosing problems is complicated.

Glitches can include buggy software, circuitry that’s randomly influenced by electrical interference and shorts caused by microscopic “whiskers” that sprout from solder. It can be one or more of these problems, as well as environmental factors — a blast from a heater vent or moisture from the road — that can cause a failure. Age also can be a factor.

“You’re looking for a needle in a haystack,” Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, told AP. “Those are very hard to reproduce. The problem happens and you go back and check and it’s not there. The normal tendency is to blame it on the driver and go on.”

And that’s what Toyota did initially.

Drivers complained their vehicles accelerated out of control — without stepping on the gas. But complaints were largely dismissed by Toyota, its dealers and government regulators, who blamed mechanical problems or drivers stepping on the wrong pedal.

Toyota, which until recently had a reputation for being high-quality and cutting-edge, began replacing mechanical accelerators with electrical ones starting with the Camry in 2002. Since the 2007 model year, all its cars have been equipped with the high-tech throttle.

An analysis of complaints by the auto safety research firm Quality Control Systems, found that the number of Toyota “speed control” complaints received by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tripled since the electronic throttles were introduced. NHTSA says 34 people have died because of sudden acceleration crashes in Toyotas since 2000.

But the issue didn’t get much attention from Toyota until an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer and three members of his family were killed when their loaner Lexus sped out of control and crashed into traffic near San Diego. The Aug. 28 crash received widespread media coverage.

Just over a month later, on Oct. 5, the automaker recalled 3.8 million Lexus and Toyota models in the U.S. because of floor mats. In January, it recalled 2.3 million because of sticky acclerators. It later added more than a million to the floor mat recall, and also said some cars might be covered by both. So far, more than 8 million vehicles have been recalled worldwide to replace floor mats or fix pedals that get stuck because of condensation.

Toyota’s denial that electronics played a role in the problems has been repeatedly challenged. Questions linger, including why, according to a congressional analysis, 70 percent of Toyota speed control complaints involve vehicles not covered by the floor mat or sticky pedal recall.

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc., was asked at a congressional hearing this week if he could say with certainty that the fixes now being undertaken would completely eliminate unintended acceleration problems. Lentz replied: “Not totally.”

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House Panel Calls Toyota Whistleblower Documents 'Troubling'


WASHINGTON – A House panel says documents obtained from a former Toyota Motor Corp. “whistleblower” lawyer are troubling, and it wants the Japanese automaker to respond, The Detroit News reported.

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Ed Towns, D-N.Y., said documents obtained under subpoena from former Toyota lawyer Dimitrios Biller “indicate Toyota deliberately withheld records that it was legally required to produce in response to discovery orders in litigation.”

“Many of these documents concern ‘rollover’ cases in which a driver or passenger was injured, including cases where victims were paralyzed,” Towns said.

A Texas court had blocked Biller from releasing the documents, but the subpoena from Congress superseded that ruling.

Toyota has rejected the claims of Biller, who was managing counsel in the product liability group of Toyota Motor Sales USA from April 2003 to September 2007.

“Toyota takes its legal obligations seriously and strives to maintain the highest professional and ethical standards in its legal and regulatory practices. It is not uncommon, however, for companies to object to certain demands for documents made in litigation,” spokeswoman Cindy Knight said Friday. “Consistent with that philosophy, we take appropriate steps to maintain the confidentiality of competitive business information and trade secrets. We are confident that we have acted appropriately with respect to product liability litigation.”

Biller has accused Toyota of trying to hide “evidence of safety defects from consumers and regulators, and fostered a culture of ‘hypocrisy and deceit,’ ” Towns said.

The records include a memo, authored by Biller to his superiors at Toyota, noting that Toyota failed to produce e-mails or other electronic records in response to discovery orders. Additionally, the committee has found multiple references to secret “Books of Knowledge” that were kept in electronic form, in which Toyota engineers kept their design and testing data across all vehicle lines and parts.

The internal memorandum dated Sept. 1, 2005, is titled “A Serious Need to Get Documents/E-Discovery From TMC.”

The committee said it has evidence that Toyota entered into multimillion dollar settlements in civil cases when they feared that the plaintiff’s lawyer was getting close to discovering the existence of the “Books of Knowledge.”

Towns wrote Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s North American chief, on Friday asking him to respond to the Biller documents and the serious issues they raise.

“In sum, the Biller documents indicate a systematic disregard for the law and routine violation of court discovery orders in litigation. People injured in crashes involving Toyota vehicles may have been injured a second time when Toyota failed to produce relevant evidence in court,” Towns wrote.

“Moreover, this also raises very serious questions as to whether Toyota has also withheld substantial, relevant information from NHTSA.”

Towns wants Inaba to respond by March 12. Knight said the company would respond.

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