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Ralph Nader Weighs In On Toyota

Posted by Jane Akre
Thursday, February 04, 2010 5:27 PM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Toyota Recall, Sudden Acceleration, Auto Accident, Floor Mats, Nader, Public Citizen, NHTSA, Prius, Brake Override

Nader says Toyota is not disclosing its problems, NHTSA is weak, and the problem goes beyond mechanics.

Ralph Nader

He may know more about automobiles than almost anyone in America. Consumer advocate, Ralph Nader, has been exposing the hazards of the automobile industry for more than four decades.

In 1965, the then-unknown lawyer, Nader wrote, Unsafe At Any Speed, an expose of the problems with the Chevy Corvair and the automobile industry’s disregard for consumer safety by producing defective and unsafe vehicles. Nader is a founder of the advocacy group, Public Citizen. He has run for president of the U.S. as both an Independent and a Green Party candidate.

He spoke to IB News editor, Jane Akre, about the failure of federal regulators and what’s ahead for Toyota and Toyota owners.

Akre: Toyota seems to have not just stepped in it but they are rolling in it from a public relations standpoint.

Nader: “The floor mat seems to have been a ruse. That was their first attempt to cover it up. There are two different suppliers in the U.S. and Japan, and they are not getting a recall in Japan. NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) has the best subpoena power and they have not exercised it against Toyota suppliers or dealers. Now they are jawboning in telling them stop production. They haven’t exercised their formal authority to do it.”

Q: So the problem is with NHTSA?

Nader: “NHTSA doesn’t have the wherewithal they need to hire skilled people and their budget in inflationary terms is equal to 55% of the budget they had in 1980.

“So you’ve got congressional hearings next week. We’ll see what kind of witnesses they bring. They have a professor of engineering at the University of Maryland. He should be retained. The hearings have got to have technical experts to ask and answer questions that have not been answered by Toyota or NHTSA."

Q: What questions does NHTSA have to ask Toyota?

Nader: “They need to say, 'I need your engineering reports on exhaustive tests on the computer systems. What do they mean by replacing the pedal? How is that going to deal with a problem like that?'

“Another one is to divulge all your lawsuits and evidence of injury from probable cause police reports. Now when there is a crash it won’t just say, 'the driver was drunk and lost control,' now police will start focusing on sudden acceleration.

“Why doesn’t Toyota cover the millions of automobiles made before 2005 which were subject to six NHTSA unintentional acceleration and product defect petitions since 2003? They are not part of the recall. There was a recall of the Toyota Lexus 200 in Britain in 2000, why did it take so long to recall it in the U.S?

“There is NHTSA protocol and they are not setting the standard. It’s all done in phone calls here. They are way in over their heads. There are a lot of questions they’re not asking, really the kind of questions a thorough regulatory agency investigates.

"They have been so denuded of technical staff through budget deregulation mania. They have been turned from a federal regulatory agency to a consulting company office for Detroit. And this has been going on since Reagan, under a Republican and Democrat. Clinton was as bad as Bush.”

Q: Do electronics and computers in today’s cars make finding the problem more difficult?

Nader: “The first Toyota recall was over sticking throttles in 1986. They replaced the computer system. Then it was much simpler than now, and we just don’t know, they haven’t done the engineering and testing. Whether Toyota has or not, we don’t know since they don’t have mandatory recalls in Japan. If they had the same problem in Japan, it would really explode there.

“This is very complex, the most ever. There are so many components to the computer system that have to be tested. The last sticking throttle was in General Motors. 6.1 million GMs were recalled, mostly Chevys, and it was an engine mount problem. That was 1971.

“NHTSA should issue mandatory standard smart pedals in all systems. Smart pedal, the brake override system, but that doesn’t deal with the fundamental computer problem. It’s more like an effective band aid."

What would you do if you had a Toyota?

Nader - “Not having a car I don’t have to worry. What would I do? Wait until you get a certified letter until you do anything? There is something incongruous about what they are doing. Toyota is saying the problem is not electronic, that’s where the real conflict is whether it’s electronic or not. It could be different problems, mechanical maybe, but it all depends on the computer system.

“The ‘fix’ – there is no confidence this is the right fix. Some don’t think it will work. There is just not enough known and that means they are not really coming clean with that level of technical disclosure. Better to learn how to brake and put it in neutral at the same time.”

Q: Is litigation the answer?

Nader: “Litigation is too slow. It’s very important but it takes too long. This is a company with huge resources. The thing is the cost in sales that they can’t recover. GM bounced back pretty easily.

"This seems to have a different quality and gravity to it. GM knew what the problem was and it was the same for 6 million vehicles. Increasingly, electronics are the forecast of the future that mechanics can’t deal with it. It increases the variables of what can go wrong. The engine mount was a simple physical artifact."

Q: Should President Obama get involved?

Nader: “Why not? He’s spending $780 million this year to guard the embassy in Baghdad because of a criminal war of aggression by Bush/Cheney that is larger than the budget for all of NHTSA including grants to states for traffic safety, which is $702 million. A $775 million budget to guard an embassy, it’s institutional insanity.

"It took him a year to find the head of NHTSA. George W. Obama. More information has to be disclosed and that is a function of the press, to press Congress and provoke Toyota. If they downplay it, it looks like a four day story and the heat’s off." #


11 Comments

Anonymous User
Posted by Marc
Thursday, February 04, 2010 11:07 PM EST

"He may know more about automobiles than almost anyone in America."


- OH, HE DOES, DOES HE???!!! HAS HE EVER WORKED IN THE AUTOMOBILE INDUSTRY? HAS HE EVER DESIGNED, BUILT, PRODUCED & SOLD CARS? HAS HE EVER PICKED UP TOOLS TO DO ANY REPAIRS AND MAINTENANCE ON ON ANY CARS? I THINK THAT YOU KNOW AS WELL AS I DO THAT THE ANSWER TO ALL THOSE QUESTIONS IS A GREAT BIG LOUD NO!!!!!!!
PLEASE DO NOT PRINT ANY MORE NONSENSE SUCH AS THE QUOTE ABOVE!!!! IT'S AN INSULT TO EVERYBODY'S INTELLIGENCE!!!!

Anonymous User
Posted by Sebastian McGarigle
Friday, February 05, 2010 4:04 PM EST

Come on Marc, Ralph Nader knows more about automobile safety than any intellectual and knows more about the subject than anyone who's going to speak out for the consumer about it. We the people must have a voice who speaks out for our safety.

Anonymous User
Posted by Marc
Friday, February 05, 2010 8:36 PM EST

Sebastian.....So then the writer of this article meant to say that nader knows more about automobile safety than anyone else? Well, maybe.
But the writer should have made that clear! There's a big difference between knowing about safety only and all aspects of cars.

Anonymous User
Posted by jeff
Saturday, February 06, 2010 12:58 PM EST

Why doesn't some "brave" congress person ivite Ralphie to the hearings?

Anonymous User
Posted by SEbastian McGarigle
Saturday, February 06, 2010 6:04 PM EST

Jeff asks a good Question. Are there any brave Congress persons?
I suggest not. Not many to be sure. All afraid of the big party money. All afraid of the lobbyist. Republican and Democrat Parties are corporations in themselves. Protecting their own enclave and not the People of this country.

Posted by Darren Wilson
Sunday, February 07, 2010 1:27 PM EST

Let's hope the government will take a closer look at safety agencies and give them the resources they need to stay on top of both safety and innovation. There are some brave people in Congress who are not controlled and manipulated by corporate interests, there are just not enough of them. Here's one such congressman, Bruce Braley from Iowa:

LINK

He's talking about a different kind of safety issue (medical negligence as opposed to auto products liability) here, but the response of his fellow politicians indicates that he is hitting a nerve when he talks about prioritizing the safety of Americans over corporate profits. Let's hope we'll have the same kind of representation where automobile and highway safety is concerned.

Anonymous User
Posted by Vince
Monday, February 08, 2010 10:20 AM EST

Jeff.....The democrats don't want ralph there. They have hated him ever since he loused up Gore in the 2000 election.
And I think that Marc is right on!!!!!!!

Anonymous User
Posted by JohnDoucette
Monday, February 08, 2010 12:53 PM EST

Marc, still smarting from that series of rusty wrecks you purchased after taking out a subscription to Motor Trend?

Anonymous User
Posted by Marc
Monday, February 08, 2010 3:22 PM EST

JohnDoucette.....I am not the Marc you are talking about. I have never subscribed to MT.
I never will, either.

Anonymous User
Posted by Bill McLaughlin
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:29 PM EST

Though Toyota is (perhaps criminally) negligent in its (lack of) response to Toyota-caused deaths, the performance of NHTSA is equally reprehensible . Perhaps this should come as no surprise since of its nearly 1 billion annual budget a mere 17.5 million is devoted to enforcement of safety-related recalls as compared with about 100 million on administration and 124 million for encouraging states to encourage the use of seatbelts. Then too, the revolving door policy which lead to decisions NOT to investigage accelerations of more than 1 second duration is a testament to all that is despicable about lobbying and government agencies kotowing to lobbyists. We deserve much better performance from our federal regulatory agencies and a corporate-funded Congress that tolerates such dismal performance.

On a related note, it would be interesting for Congress to ask how many dollars Toyota has devoted to trying to understand and fix its safety problems as compared with how many dollars have been expended on lobbying government agencies to limit investigations and on PR firms trying to deny its culpability while insisting that safety , not profit is its primary concern.

Posted by robert ingram
Friday, March 12, 2010 4:48 PM EST

RALPH IT'S TIME FOR UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED # 2 IT WORK'S I WAS WORKING AT G.M. PLANT THAT BUILT THE CORVAIR IN MICH. SHOULD BE ONE FOR TOYOTA NOW....THANK YOU RALPH I WILL BUY THE BOOK.....LET'S GET DONE

Comments for this article are closed.

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