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LA Times story on Toyota Recalls

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"A Times investigation shows the world's largest automaker has delayed recalls and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects".

By Ken Bensinger and Ralph Vartabedian

During a routine test on its Sienna minivan in April 2003, Toyota Motor Corp. engineers discovered that a plastic panel could come loose and cause the gas pedal to stick, potentially making the vehicle accelerate out of control.

The automaker redesigned the part and by that June every 2004 model year Sienna off the assembly line came with the new panel. Toyota did not notify tens of thousands of people who had already bought vans with the old panel, however.

It wasn't until U.S. safety officials opened an investigation last year that Toyota acknowledged in a letter to regulators that the part could come loose and "lead to unwanted or sudden acceleration."

In January, nearly six years after discovering the potential hazard, the automaker recalled 26,501 vans made with the old panel.

In a statement to The Times, Toyota said that there was no defect in the Sienna and that "a safety recall was not deemed necessary" when it discovered the problem in 2003. The company called the replacement part "an additional safety measure."

A peerless reputation for quality and safety has helped Toyota become the world's largest automaker. But even as its sales have soared, the company has delayed recalls, kept a tight lid on disclosure of potential problems and attempted to blame human error in cases where owners claimed vehicle defects.

The automaker's handling of safety issues has come under scrutiny in recent months because of incidents of sudden acceleration in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, which The Times has reported were involved in accidents causing 19 fatalities since 2001, more deaths from that problem than all other automakers combined.

After Toyota this fall announced its biggest recall to address the sudden-acceleration problem, it insisted publicly that no defect existed. That drew a rare public rebuke from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which chastised the automaker for making "inaccurate and misleading statements."

In the wake of Toyota's announcement of the massive recall, The Times examined some of the ways the automaker has dealt with safety problems in recent years and found that:

* The automaker knew of a dangerous steering defect in vehicles including the 4Runner sport utility vehicle for years before issuing a recall in Japan in 2004. But it told regulators no recall was necessary in the U.S., despite having received dozens of complaints from drivers. Toyota said a subsequent investigation led it to order a U.S. recall in 2005.

* Toyota has paid cash settlements to people who say their vehicles have raced out of control, sometimes causing serious accidents, according to consumers and their attorneys. Other motorists who complained of acceleration problems with their vehicles have received buybacks under lemon laws.

* Although the sudden acceleration issue erupted publicly only in recent months, it has been festering for nearly a decade. A computerized search of NHTSA records by The Times has found Toyota issued eight previous recalls related to unintended acceleration since 2000, more than any other automaker.

* A former Toyota lawyer who handled safety litigation has sued the automaker, accusing it of engaging in a "calculated conspiracy to prevent the disclosure of damaging evidence" as part of a scheme to "prevent evidence of its vehicles' structural shortcomings from becoming known" to plaintiffs lawyers, courts, NHTSA and the public.

As a result, plaintiffs attorneys are considering reopening dozens of product-liability suits against the automaker.

Toyota has called the allegations of the attorney, Dimitrios Biller, "both misleading and inaccurate" and noted that he is also suing another former employer. The company said it had "acted appropriately in product liability cases and in all reporting to federal safety regulators."

In a written statement to The Times, Toyota said that it strove to keep government officials and consumers informed about potential safety problems with its vehicles, which it says are tested to meet or exceed federal standards.

"Toyota has absolutely not minimized public awareness of any defect or issue with respect to its vehicles," the company said.

Currently, Toyota is a defendant in at least 10 lawsuits alleging unintended acceleration that caused five fatalities and four injuries. Two of those suits are seeking class-action status.

But few, if any, sudden-acceleration cases ever make it to trial, according to attorneys who handle such cases.

After a 2007 crash of a Camry that accelerated out of control for 20 miles before killing the driver of another car in San Jose, Toyota was sued by members of the victim's family. Their attorney, Louis Franecke, said the automaker "didn't want to go to trial," and paid them a seven-figure sum in exchange for dropping the case and signing a non-disclosure form.

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This doesn't surprise me in the LEAST. When the mitsubishi disaster broke (and was immediately forgotten), it revealed the true inner japanese corporate culture, not the cultivated mask of benevolence & customer concern, but ruthless lies to preserve a false image. Here is toyota doing the exact same thing, an automaker the LEAST pressured to do so due to expanding sales & monster (criminal ??) profits.

19 needlessly dead because of shoddy engineering and the lies to cover it up to protect stockholders.

8,xxx recalls in 2000, 4,8xx,xxx in 2009, or 600 times the volume of merely 9 years earlier. And yes- there is more, MUCH more to be uncovered.

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This doesn't surprise me in the LEAST. When the mitsubishi disaster broke (and was immediately forgotten), it revealed the true inner japanese corporate culture, not the cultivated mask of benevolence & customer concern, but ruthless lies to preserve a false image. Here is toyota doing the exact same thing, an automaker the LEAST pressured to do so due to expanding sales & monster (criminal ??) profits.

19 needlessly dead because of shoddy engineering and the lies to cover it up to protect stockholders.

8,xxx recalls in 2000, 4,8xx,xxx in 2009, or 600 times the volume of merely 9 years earlier. And yes- there is more, MUCH more to be uncovered.

I do agree that more needs to be more uncovered - but how is this endemic of Japan-based corporations any more than US ones? Whatever happened to the Explorer rollovers, exploding Pinto gas tanks, etc. Corporations all make faulty products, and it's in their self-interest to cover things up, deny responsibility, and protect their image.

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These articles must be making FOG jump for joy. :P

Indeed, it's good to see people finally beginning to see Toyota for what it really is: just another automaker (except the cars they make are boring and/or ugly).

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I do agree that more needs to be more uncovered - but how is this endemic of Japan-based corporations any more than US ones? Whatever happened to the Explorer rollovers, exploding Pinto gas tanks, etc. Corporations all make faulty products, and it's in their self-interest to cover things up, deny responsibility, and protect their image.

Because Japan has a fairly well-known societal emphasis on reputation and honor. Japanese companies are also very secretive.

That said, I don't think Japanese v. American companies are more likely to engage in corruption, but that Japanese companies are more likely to engage in corruption in this manner.

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I do agree that more needs to be more uncovered - but how is this endemic of Japan-based corporations any more than US ones? Whatever happened to the Explorer rollovers, exploding Pinto gas tanks, etc. Corporations all make faulty products, and it's in their self-interest to cover things up, deny responsibility, and protect their image.

Not all Japanese companies but Japanese companies in general, put much more weight on saving face. If Ford were interested in saving face, they wouldn't have built the Pinto in the first place. :P

Toyota has been very vocal about blaming everyone except Toyota whenever one of these stories breaks. Look at the engine sludge thing. Sony did the same thing with their battery fires and the rootkits they installed on peoples' computers.

Honda on the other hand, when the transmissions started failing in the Odyssey and TL, sucked it up and extended the warranty on the transmissions on those vehicles to 100k miles. Sure, they did it quietly, but they didn't go issuing media statements first about how the driver was abusing the car or had failed to maintain it properly.

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It's amazing how deceptive the company has been. I have been trying to tell my friends for years, but since it was not in print, they just brush it off. SO many of my friends own Toyotas/Lexuses. I threw the article on my Facebook page, but what sickens me is I can guarantee some of them when it comes time to purchase another car will go right for Toyota.

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Anyone else note the signifigance of this being published in the LA Times?

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Anyone else note the signifigance of this being published in the LA Times?

Yes. Right in the heart of the west coast market where Ford and GM are disregarded and laughed at. Now their beloved Toyota is being exposed for what it is. I hope it continues. Honda was just busted for lying about gas mileage. It annoyed me how for so long people blindly would run to a Toyota dealership and buy these cars because of what someone said, and because of the "Toyota Lie" they all believed for so long. The funny thing is GM and Ford did have quality cars during the rough times. No one noticed.

Edited by NINETY EIGHT REGENCY
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Yes. Right in the heart of the west coast market where Ford and GM are disregarded and laughed at. Now their beloved Toyota is being exposed for what it is. I hope it continues. Honda was just busted for lying about gas mileage. It annoyed me how for so long people blindly would run to a Toyota dealership and buy these cars because of what someone said, and because of the "Toyota Lie" they all believed for so long. The funny thing is GM and Ford did have quality cars during the rough times. No one noticed.

Ford and GM aren't disregarded in LA at all. The good cars sell well; Californians have a very embedded car culture and tend to be picky about what they buy because of what it says about them. What was the GTO's biggest market? I see plenty of Fusions, Mustangs, Escapes, Malibus, Lacrosses, Equinoxes, etc. driving around LA. They're there...but you'd be hard-pressed to find a G6.

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Anyone else note the signifigance of this being published in the LA Times?

TM USA headquarters are in Torrance, an LA suburb, so this is hitting them right where it hurts.

I'm loving every minute of this.

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Anyone else note the signifigance of this being published in the LA Times?

Yes, this is basically Toyota's "home turf" in the US. Hence the bravo for the LA Times.

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I hope this continues well into the dark night. The media war has finally, hopefully, turned to a new frontline. They did everything they could to destroy our own automotive giants, have they gotten the last blood out of that stone? Many more millions will read this than the buff magazines when they praise an American vehicle.

Death to you, Toyota. May you fall in a giant mushroom cloud of your own lies and perpetrations. FALL, like a Tacoma pickup frame, into iron oxide dust to the lungs of your executives until they choke to tears and crawl off the stage!

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This is like an early Christmas present, maybe the best one I will get this year. :Toyota: Now if only a dozen or so more articles like this could come out in the next couple of weeks showing the true toyota.

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I'm all for a competitive marketplace, but I hope it won't take much longer to show Toyota the door out of the U.S. market.

I wonder how my uncle's '03 Tundra is holding up ...

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Honestly surprising given the source.

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I'm all for a competitive marketplace, but I hope it won't take much longer to show Toyota the door out of the U.S. market.

Never going to happen. At least not in our lifetimes.

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Never going to happen. At least not in our lifetimes.

To bad really. :Toyota:

Anyone up to making an anti honda and/or toyota Emoticon like the toyota one?

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Never going to happen. At least not in our lifetimes.

I think toyota will recover from this mess and continue to do well here.

They have a lot of goodwill built up in their customer base. Thankfully, GM is now in a position where they can fight back...

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It comes down to follow the money.

I suspect there is a lot more in play here. Toyota will survive but how much damage will be done before it lets up. How far does someone want this to go? The printed press has been a tool for a long time and now even most major networks are now preaching what they are told to do and no longer just report the news.

We all have seen how thing fair and unfair have been played against GM. They take their weakness and use it against them everytime they are about to get back on their feet. Someone has something to gain here and the printed press as it has been used to help Toyota in the past is not being turned against them. How long till the Toronto Star turns on them?

As with most things in goverment and press does it is all about power and money. Toyota has done nothing different than it has for a long time but now the blind can see. Who gve them their sight back?

Lets just hope what ever is going on permits GM to take advantage of this and get some headway while Toyota is taking the hits. As we know from WWII the Japanese will not go with out a fight. They set out after WWII to take over the world finacially and they nearly did even with the lack of natural resources. But now they also have to contend with China that has the man power and resources to do what they can't. I think as with many of the world issues you can trace the money back to China.

China is a lot smarter and powerful than most people realize. They also use many other countries to do what they can't like Iran, N Korea, Yemen etc. Lets face it China has a growing auto market and they hate Japan. Who has the money to attack Japan?

Think of this hit as noting more than a finacial bombing raid. WW III started a long time ago and it is not befought with bombs, it is being fought in the finacial markets. Think about that the next time other countries push Cap and Trade on the USA as they polute 20 more than us.

Global warming is about more than polution.

This hit on Toyota is nothing more than just another battle it a larger war.

Edited by hyperv6
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