Thinking Tech

Toyota's pedal problem fix raises many questions

Toyota's pedal problem fix raises many questions

Posting in Government

Toyota's "comprehensive" solution announced today to the stuck pedal problem raises as many question as it answers. Who knew what and when?

My friend Steve, an owner of a three-year-old Avalon, says his faith in Toyota is unshaken, but he may in the minority.

"My car has slightly more than 100k miles with no problems except a ventilation issue caused by a spider's nest that resulted in a water leak on the floor (and caused mold).  It would be interesting to see actual numbers of incidents," he said, adding he's heard nothing from Toyota about a recall of his Avalon.

The LA Times reported that a HCD Research poll "showed that 56% of respondents said they were less likely to buy a Toyota after watching [Toyota Motor Sales President & COO Jim] Lentz's appearance on the NBC's "Today" show to explain the repair this morning.

Toyota today announced a "comprehensive" pedal fix.

Lentz did not directly answer Today Show co-host Matt Lauer's questions about when Toyota knew of the unintended acceleration problem. And he dodged a question whether Toyotas are absolutely safe to drive.

Toyota

Friend Steve's question about incidents is an interesting one because confusion reigns around the accelerator problem.

From what I can glean there's two distinct problems and several suspected causes. The problems are slow pedal return and unintended acceleration. The theories behind the causes are as Toyota says, a mechanical problem and pedals entrapped by floormats.

And some experts are still not convinced that electronics should be discounted as a cause. Toyota's Lentz denied that electronics are the culprit. Some 19 fatalities have been linked to the two problems.

CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind. is the maker of the defective accelerators and last week cried foul, claiming its products are only associated with "the rare slow return pedal phenomenon, which may occur in extreme environmental conditions, [and] should absolutely not be linked with any sudden unintended acceleration incidents."

CTS claims the more dangerous "unintended acceleration" problem has been known since 1999 in some Lexus models before it made the accelerators in question.  One dramatic account is of a 77-year-old Flint, Mich. woman who was killed instantly when her 2005 Camry with 17,000 miles on it struck a tree at 80 MPH.

"CTS is also not aware of any accidents and injuries caused by the rare slow return pedal condition, to the best of its knowledge," according to a CTS statement released on Jan. 27.

In another statement released the same day, CTS characterized the problem as the gas pedal "harder to depress, slower to return or, in the worst case, stuck in a partially depressed position.” Logically, a partially depressed accelerator sounds like it could cause unintended acceleration. Maybe CTS is on solid ground or girding for lawsuits.

As for electronics,  Toyota said in November, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigated six different incidents of unintended acceleration over as many years and ruled out that electronics were the cause.

A NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) found that in investigating the 2007 Lexus ES 350 that half of the 64 accelerator complaints were caused by floormats. The complaints resulted in eight crashes, seven injuries and no fatalities, the ODI report said.

Well, what about the other half? What caused killed 19 people to die? Why didn't Toyota  let on to the problem earlier if it was first detected in 1999? Where was the government and why did it stick to the floormat theory for so long?

These unanswered questions and many others will keep the spotlight on Toyota for years to come.

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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