Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

Toyota’s Slow Awakening to a Deadly Problem

1 post in this topic

Toyota’s Slow Awakening to a Deadly Problem


Published: January 31, 2010

DETROIT — The 911 call came at 6:35 p.m. on Aug. 28 from a car that was speeding out of control on Highway 125 near San Diego.

Jordan Ziprin of Phoenix said regulators had focused exclusively on mechanical issues. “I believe this is an electronic issue.”

The caller, a male voice, was panic-stricken: “We’re in a Lexus ... we’re going north on 125 and our accelerator is stuck ... we’re in trouble ... there’s no brakes ... we’re approaching the intersection ... hold on ... hold on and pray ... pray ...”

The call ended with the sound of a crash.

The Lexus ES 350 sedan, made by Toyota, had hit a sport utility vehicle, careened through a fence, rolled over and burst into flames. All four people inside were killed: the driver, Mark Saylor, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, and his wife, daughter and brother-in-law.

It was the tragedy that forced Toyota, which had received more than 2,000 complaints of unintended acceleration, to step up its own inquiry, after going through multiple government investigations since 2002.

Yet only last week did the company finally appear to come to terms with the scope of the problem — after expanding a series of recalls to cover millions of vehicles around the world, incalculable damage to its once-stellar reputation for quality and calls for Congressional hearings.

With prodding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Toyota halted production and sales of eight models, including its top-selling Camry sedan.

And late last week, the government allowed the company to go ahead to try yet another new fix for its vehicles, which it is expected to announce on Monday.

At almost every step that led to its current predicament, Toyota underestimated the severity of the sudden-acceleration problem affecting its most popular cars. It went from discounting early reports of problems to overconfidently announcing diagnoses and insufficient fixes.

As recently as the fall, Toyota was still saying it was confident that loose floor mats were the sole cause of any sudden acceleration, issuing an advisory to millions of Toyota owners to remove them. The company said on Nov. 2 that “there is no evidence to support” any other conclusion, and added that its claim was backed up by the federal traffic safety agency.

But, in fact, the agency had not signed on to the explanation, and it issued a sharp rebuke. Toyota’s statement was “misleading and inaccurate,” the agency said. “This matter is not closed.”

The effect on Toyota’s business is already being felt. Its sales in the United States in January are expected to drop 11 percent from a year earlier, and its market share in the United States is likely to fall to its lowest point since 2006, according to, an automotive research Web site.

The company has not yet projected the cost of its recalls and lost sales. But a prolonged slowdown in sales could substantially hurt a company that once minted profit.

Toyota’s handling of the problem is a story of how a long-trusted carmaker lost sight of one of its bedrock principles.

In Toyota lore, the ultimate symbol of the company’s attention to detail is the “andon cord,” a rope that workers on the assembly line can pull if something is wrong, immediately shutting down the entire line. The point is to fix a small problem before it becomes a larger one.

But in the broadest sense, Toyota itself failed to pull the andon cord on this issue, and treated a growing safety issue as a minor glitch — a point the company’s executives are now acknowledging in a series of humbling apologies.

“Every day is a lesson and there is something to be learned,” Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota’s top executive in North America, said at the Detroit auto show in January. “This was a hard lesson.”

In Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota’s founder who now heads the company, told a Japanese broadcaster that he was “deeply sorry” for the problems.

Toyota’s safety problems may prove to be a hard lesson for the N.H.T.S.A., as well. Six separate investigations were conducted by the agency into consumer complaints of unintended acceleration, and none of them found defects in Toyotas other than unsecured floor mats.

In at least three cases, the agency denied petitions for further investigative action because it did not see a pattern of defects and because of a “need to allocate and prioritize N.H.T.S.A.’s limited resources” elsewhere, according to agency documents.

The investigations, and Toyota’s handling of the problem, will be the subject of Congressional hearings.

But the publicity surrounding the accident near San Diego, and Toyota’s repeated inability to quell consumer concerns with a definitive solution, has also prompted a flood of lawsuits reminiscent of the litigation a decade ago arising out of the rollovers of Ford Explorers equipped with Firestone tires.

two more pages.



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Your content will need to be approved by a moderator

You are commenting as a guest. If you have an account, please sign in.
Reply to this topic...

×   You have pasted content with formatting.   Remove formatting

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0

  • Who's Online (See full list)

    There are no registered users currently online

  • Who's Chatting

    There are no users currently in the chat room