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Data Shows Camrys Outside Recall Also Had Problems

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Data Shows Camrys Outside Recall Also Had Problems


Published: March 1, 2010

This article was reported by Bill Vlasic, Hiroko Tabuchi and Jo Craven McGinty and written by Mr. Vlasic.

Toyota has recalled six million cars in the United States over concerns about sudden acceleration. But an analysis of government documents shows that many Toyota Camrys built before 2007, which were not subject to recalls, have been linked to a comparable number of speed-control problems as recalled Camrys.

While owners of all makes of vehicles have filed complaints with the government about speed control problems, the analysis — based on a review of 12,700 complaint records in the United States over the last decade by The New York Times — reveals that Toyota had more complaints involving crashes than any other carmaker.

Many of the complaints were about vehicles not covered by recalls. The 2002 Camry, for example, had about 175 speed-control complaints. Roughly half of those involved crashes.

By comparison, the 2007 Camry, which was recalled, was the subject of about 200 speed-control complaints, with fewer than a quarter of those resulting in acci-dents.

In all, federal safety regulators said they had received complaints alleging that unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles caused 34 deaths.

In his Congressional testimony last week, James E. Lentz III, the president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., noted that other auto manufacturers had had complaints of sudden acceleration.

Of the 12,700 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration consumer complaints analyzed by The Times, the Ford Motor Company had the most, about 3,500.

Toyota ranked second, with about 3,000 complaints, but those were linked to far more accidents — 1,000 — compared to 450 crashes for Ford.

All told, from 2000 through 2009, Toyota had one speed-control crash complaint per 20,454 vehicles sold in the United States. Ford had one complaint per 64,679 vehicles. Honda had one per 70,112 and G.M. one per 179,821.

Asked about The Times’s findings, a Toyota spokesman said on Monday that pre-2007 Camrys had been investigated and cleared of defects in three previous inquiries by the safety agency. “At the conclusion of these investigations, no specific evidence of a trend regarding safety issues was found,” said Brian Lyons, the spokesman.

Mr. Lyons said that the 2002 and 2003 Camrys with six-cylinder engines had also been subject to two corporate service actions aimed at addressing momentary surges in acceleration. He said the changes were “not issued to resolve any computer software or electronic throttle control concerns.”

A separate examination by The Times of transport ministry records in Japan revealed a similar finding. In reports since 2001, Toyota vehicles have been cited with a greater frequency in complaints of sudden acceleration than those of other major carmakers.

Toyota has blamed gas pedals that can stick and bulky floor mats for unexplained acceleration in its recalled vehicles.

Camrys sold before 2007 in the United States, and almost all Toyotas sold in Japan, use a different pedal design and different floor mats. So Toyota has said that there is no need to recall those cars.

Records suggesting that these Camrys and Japanese Toyotas have sudden acceleration problems have raised questions about whether there might be another explanation, including the possibility that the cars’ electronic systems malfunction, resulting in unexpected acceleration.

Toyota’s chief executive, Akio Toyoda, testified before a Congressional panel last week that he was “absolutely confident” there was no problem with Toyota’s electronics.

“Tests have been repeated,” he said. “However, no malfunction or problems were identified.”

But transportation officials in the United States said in interviews that they were reviewing whether to expand their investigations of Toyota to include pre-2007 Camrys. N.H.T.S.A. had cleared the pre-2007 Camrys of possible defects in two previous investigations of unintended acceleration, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Department, Olivia Alair, said. She said these same models would now be part of an inquiry into the role that electronic throttle control systems may have played in Toyota’s speed-control problems.

“If N.H.T.S.A. can find evidence of a possible defect trend with Toyota or other products during this review, they will open a defect investigation,” Ms. Alair said. At a hearing in Washington on Tuesday, the transportation secretary Ray Lahood that the N.H.T.S.A. was not slow to starting investigations into Toyota vehicles despite a spike in reports of sudden acceleration in recent years. The agency opened at least two inquiries, he said.

Announcing new and rare investigations in Japan, the Seiji Maehara, the transport minister, said last week of Toyota’s executives, “There’s a high possibility that Toyota has not provided the state with adequate information.

Last Wednesday, the transport ministry said it would examine 38 complaints of sudden acceleration in Toyotas reported from 2007 through 2009, as well as 134 cases in cars produced by all other automakers that sell in Japan. No deaths or injuries have been reported as a result of those incidents, the ministry said.

The Times’s analysis of complaints in the United States covered those filed since 2000 involving all makes and models of cars manufactured this decade. A complaint about speed control may indicate that the vehicle accelerated excessively or inadequately.

The single largest source of these complaints was the 2007 model Camry.

That model, along with Camrys made since, has been recalled twice, beginning last fall, in connection with unintended acceleration — first for unsecured floor mats, and then for faulty accelerator pedals that could stick when depressed.

A high incidence of crashes linked to speed control has occurred in earlier model Camrys.

During 2004, 125 crashes reported to the highway safety agency were linked to speed control. About 80 of those involved Camrys.

In Japan, The Times examined all the reports of Toyota malfunctions brought to the transport ministry since 2001, about 3,700 in all, and, for comparison, all comparable reports on Honda over the same period, about 2,400.

The examination found 99 cases of sudden acceleration or engine surge in Toyotas, compared with 18 reports of similar problems in Hondas.

The transport ministry received a sudden acceleration report for every 150,000 Toyotas sold. This compares with one report for about every 300,000 Hondas sold.

Although Toyota sold 1.35 million cars and trucks in Japan last year, that many reports “is not a small number,” said Tetsuo Taniguchi, a chief researcher at the Japanese government-affiliated National Traffic Safety and Environment Laboratory. “If pedals or floor mats are not the problem in Japan, it’s time for Toyota to investigate what is.”

Ministry officials note that a small fraction of incidents make their way to the ministry because most drivers report auto malfunctions to their dealers. And in Japan dealers and manufacturers are under no obligation to give that information to the government, unless the company believes it failed to comply with national safety standards.

For the government to order a recall, it must have proof of a potentially dangerous defect, which is difficult to find without cooperation from the automaker.

On Monday, Mr. Toyoda also continued his campaign to shore up Toyota’s reputation, apologizing at a news conference in China to consumers there for quality concerns.



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