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Toyoda Testifies (Part 2)

Posted by Jane Akre
Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:10 PM EST
Category: On The Road
Tags: Toyota, Unintended Acceleration, NHTSA, Sticking Gas Pedals, Recall, Prius, Tundra, Lexus, Highlander, Class-Action

PART TWO

The head of the

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Toyota Motor Company says it has learned
from its mistakes and when Americans complain about problems in the future, it will be heard by Toyota management.

That is one of the changes promised by Akio Toyoda, the CEO of Toyota Motor Corporation. He and Yoshimi Inaba, the president and COO of Toyota, spoke to a House Oversight Committee in the second day of hearings over the troubled automaker.

With more than eight million vehicles recalled, and at least 34 deaths attributed to a sticking accelerator, Toyota told lawmakers that his company was in an expansion phase and they lost control over quality.

“We lost the customer perspective,” he said.

Planning to launch an internal investigation in cooperation with NHTSA, Toyoda said, “My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment Toyota will work unceasingly to restore the confidence of our customers.”

Mechanic or Electronic Problem

The question revisited throughout the day was whether the company's sudden acceleration problem can be attributed to electronics onboard every vehicle or the mechanics of the car. Inaba said Toyota is close to announcing an outside advisory board with two prominent safety experts to lead a panel to investigate the electronic throttle system (ETS).

But earlier, Mr. Toyoda had indicated that the majority of the recalls were for mechanical reasons, namely all-weather mats that can entrap the accelerator and a pedal that can ‘stick” over time.

“The vehicle can be controlled with a firm and steady application of the brakes," he said.

Through a translator, Toyoda said four factors contributed to unexpected acceleration - the electronic throttle system (ETS), the misuse of the car, and the structural aspects of the car and parts used in the vehicle.

“These are the four major factors contributing to unexpected acceleration. Of that, the electronic throttle control system is based on the design of safety first, therefore when there is any problem, the fuel supply to the system is cut off. No problem with a malfunction did we identify, so I‘m confident there is no problem with the design of the ETS system.”

Mr. Inaba said he is 100 percent confident the problem is not with the ETS system.

Brake Override System

Yoshimi Inaba announced that an advanced brake override system will be put in all new Toyota vehicles made in North America before the end of 2010. Other models will receive the brake override system retroactively.

To offer consumer confidence, the company will install the system on its 2005 to 2010 Tacoma, 2009 and 2010 Venza, and 2008 to 2010 Sequoia models, which can be reprogrammed with the new software.

Toyota plans to offer a retrofit to the 2007 to 2010 Camry, 2005 to 2010 Avalon, and the 2007 to 2010 Lexus ES 350, 2006 to 2010 IS 350 and 2006 to 2010 IS 250 models.

Black Box Recorders

Another part of the Toyota culture appears to be secrecy, said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton of Delaware. People are familiar with black box data recorders in airplanes and while GM, Ford, and Chrysler have a commercially available reader that can translate black box recording contents, Toyota does not.

“Make the black box data available to download,” said Norton. “Why should we respect your proprietary technology more than we respect the technology of other auto makers, particularly given the safety aspects of this manner and given that an accident has already occurred?” she asked.

100 readers will be available by April, Mr. Inaba promised, but there will be a delay on commercially available readers until next year.

Tort System

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D-PA) asked if American car problems are getting the same attention as automobiles in Europe and Japan, which Toyoda agreed was happening.

Kanjorski asked if Japan has a tort system similar to the U.S?

“I believe we do,” said Toyoda.

Rep. Kanjorski said, “I think you are making the best argument why we have the present tort system. I hope you recognize the damages suffered by innocent American citizens. We had a great deal of faith in ‘Made in Japan.’ It meant it was of the highest reliability. If you’re injured, you will be called on it in the American system to pay compensation for that.”

Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) asked if the two company executives have been advised not to discuss details with the electronic throttle control system because such an admission would create a liability that could be devastating to Toyota.

Toyoda said, “That has never happened.”

Cutting Costs

Rep. Kucinich said it’s ironic that the company says it was moving too fast.

“I’d submit it’s a misleading parallel. It was not moving too fast, it was moving too slow to realize the defects that put people’s lives at risk.”

Kucinich says that Toyota began to slash production costs in face of competition from China.

“This committee hasn’t even looked at the economic backdrop that maybe a cut-throat competitive environment that caused Toyota to cut costs. Safety was put at risk.” #


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