After being the darling of the automotive industry, Toyota is currently having severe credibility problems. If it doesn’t put its house in order, Toyota could lose its leading position as a reliable car manufacturer. Right now it’s the undisputed number one worldwide car maker.
Unless you have been living in an isolated island with Robin Crusoe, you already know that Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past four months because of problems with sticking gas pedals, floor mats trapping accelerators, steering flaws, and faulty brake software.
Corolla, their number one selling car in the world, is also in the eye of the storm with possible faulty steering problems. There is no doubt about it; the Toyota brand is blemished and American car makers should take advantage of this situation if they want to change the direction of the wind in their favor.
Toyota, long considered the industry’s king of quality, has stumbled disastrously with a now-infamous “sudden acceleration” problem that led to the recall of more than eight million vehicles. The ordeal has included every element of an American-style corporate nightmare, including apologies, class-action lawsuits and, inevitably, Congressional hearings.
Analysts say Toyota has declined in quality in the last couple of years, because the company has simply grown too large to maintain standards the way it once did.
The problems with electronic throttle control systems, sticky accelerator pedals and floor mats trapping the accelerator pedals is known as “sudden unintended accelerations.” These unexpected accelerations have been happening since at least seven years now. Toyota introduced electronic throttle controls in 2002 on certain Camry and Lexus models, and since that time, consumer complaints to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about sudden acceleration have quadrupled for these models. But in response to formal defect petitions, NHTSA opened and closed several investigations without action.
Toyota representatives in both the United States and Japan, said it all was the drivers’ fault. They stated that the drivers were mostly liars, paranoid and crazy; and therefore, squeezed safety defects under the rug. Toyota customers accused the Japanese automaker of hiding evidence of safety defects from consumers and regulators, and of fostering a culture of hypocrisy and deceit.
Given the lax government regulation, it’s not surprising that Toyota responded to the 7-year-old sudden-acceleration problem by first blaming driver error, then by claiming floor mat interference, then by admitting that many of the 2.3 million recalled Toyotas in the United States had a gas pedal prone to sticking. But for the fact that an August 2009 car accident was caught on a 911 tape, there probably would never have been a recall. It was in late 2009 when the stuff hit the fan.
This automobile accident—which killed Mark Saylor, an off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer and his three passengers—would have been, like so many others, attributed to driver error and swept under the carpet. But it caught the attention of the media and brought the issue of sudden unintended acceleration into the spotlight.
Last week, James Lenz, Toyota Motor Sales USA, President & Chief Operating Officer, Ray La Hood, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, and Akio Toyoda, the President of Toyota in Japan, testified before two Congressional committees investigating this issue.
Mr. Lentz, said in his prepared testimony that Toyota had poor communications within the company, with government regulators and with its customer. Akio Toyoda went even further. In his opening statement, he said he feared the pace at which the company grew in the last decade was too quick. Toyota increased its global sales by about 50 percent, in part by building plants around the world, and became the worlds biggest auto company in 2008.
Traditionally, he said the company’s priorities had been safety, quality and volume. But in the growth spurt, “these priorities became confused, and we were not able to stop. think and make improvement as much as we were before,” he said in his prepared statement.
“We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization. I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am sincerely sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced.” He also said that new system to allow brakes to override gas pedals were being put on new models to fix the problem.
I saw his testimony through C-Span and did not buy his argument. He was saying what the American consumer expected him to say, not because he meant it. It was old fashion material greed, taking precedence over safety and quality.
NHTSA says 52 people have been killed in crashes linked to Toyota’s acceleration problems. Toyota has blamed mechanical causes or drivers pressing the wrong pedal. However, some question whether the electronic throttle system or a software glitch may be at fault, rather than a mechanical issue involving pedals. Toyota says it is looking into electronics as a possible cause.
In the meantime, complaints keep coming in from drivers who say the fix has not solved the problem, including at least 15 filed with NHTSA in the last two weeks, according to an AP analysis of the agency database. Some Toyota owner say they’re still having trouble with unintended acceleration after their recalled cars were repaired.
As you can see, the runaway vehicles are still on the road and Toyota doesn’t know how to fix them. If this is the case, many American consumers will walk into the Big Three salesrooms in an effort to buy a safer car. I hope Ford, GM and Chrysler are ready to satisfy the American consumers. A window of opportunity such as this only occur once in a lifetime. Good Day.
Suggested Reading: NHTSA’s Advice to Toyota Customers
Read Full Post »