Thinking Tech

Consumer Reports, Toyotas and smart throttles

Posting in Technology

Did Consumer Reports tiptoe around the Toyota unintended acceleration issue in its annual 2010 Top Cars issue? It's a fair question given how unabashedly it has recommended Toyotas over the years.

I've been wondering how Consumer Reports (CR) would treat Toyota in its annual "Top 2010 Cars" issue which just came out. After all, CR has been gushing about how wonderful Toyotas are for a couple of decades now.

In a nutshell, CR has suspended recommending the models that were recalled:

"CR has suspended its recommendations of those models until the problem has been resolved. In our Profiles and Ratings the models are noted by an *," CR said in its Test Notes section.

For some, reason, the astrix was not applied to the Prius which was recalled in November for floor mat entrapment of the accelerator. Interestingly, CR reports in the print issue that "Smart Throttle Systems" in the Mercedes E350 and Volkswagen Jetta Wagon works as advertised:

"We found that even with the accelerator wide open, hitting the brakes immediately disengaged the throttle and allowed us to stop the car safely," CR said.

There's a budding market for smart throttles. I found an after market accelerator called The Decelerator and New York Times reported last October that BMW has "smart pedal" software in all its vehicles that tells the car to ignore the accelerator if it and the brake are being depressed at the same time. It would seem such overrides will become standard equipment in the next two years. If such simple overrides seem like a no-brainer, that's because they are.

There were some other things that jumped out at me in CR's 2010 ratings.

-- The high rankings are spread across more car companies in the 2010 ratings. CR seemed higher on newer Chevy models such as the forthcoming Cruze. At the same time, the past still haunts GM: Chevy owned eight "Worst of the Worst" spots in reliability in models made between 2000-09. But it repeatedly notes the reliability and road test gains made by GM and Ford which have long played catch-up to Asian carmakers.

-- It was the same old story with Automaker Reports Cards based on road tests and reliability: Honda, Subaru, Toyota and Hyundai grabbed the top four spots in that order while Ford was fourth from the bottom and GM second while Chrsyler owned the cellar.

Not part of the recall, the $70,000 Lexus LS 460 L was judged to be the best if not a near perfect car in road tests. It scored 99 out of 100. That said, Toyota proper did not have a model in the top ten under $20,000. Ford Focus took the top spot while Honda, Nissan, Scion (made by Toyota), Subaru and Suzuki took the other nine spots.

As always, the CR April car issue is an interesting read. It summed up 2009 this way:

"The past year was one of the most turbulent ever in the automotive market, with marked highs and lows. Brands such a Pontiac and Saturn were hoisted away by that great tow truck in the sky. Others, such as Ford, Hyundai, Subaru, and Volkswagen, were purring along better than ever, as reflected in their vehicles' performance and reliability."

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure