As we’ve reported extensively here at Mother Nature Network, with dramatic first-person stories of drivers carried away by their cars, Toyota has a sudden acceleration problem. It’s been trying to sweep the growing controversy under the rug, but that campaign is now over.
The company announced late Tuesday it would halt sales of some of its top-selling models to fix gas pedals that could stick and cause unintended acceleration. Last week, Toyota issued a recall for the same eight models affecting 2.3 million vehicles. After attributing the acceleration problem to ill-fitting floormats (and recalling 4.2 million cars), Toyota is now admitting it has a more serious problem. “There is a possibility that certain accelerator-pedal mechanisms may, in rare instances, mechanically stick in a partially depressed position or return slowly to the idle position,” said Toyota spokesman Irv Miller. A lot of careful wording in there.
In an interview last week, Toyota spokesperson John Hanson made a distinction between the two recalls. The first, he said, is a "pedal entrapment" issue that is being addressed by modifying the pedal and the underlying pad to give more clearance. The second has to do with sticking pedals, all from one specific U.S.-based supplier (that he declined to name). In some cases, Hanson said, the pedals return slowly; in others, they don't return at all. An Automotive News report, however, identifies the supplier as CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., with the actual part being made in Canada.
The automaker is investigating everything from better lubrication to new pedals as a fix for the ongoing problem. It could take some time to fix, because new parts will have to be engineered and manufactured for each model, the magazine said.
This is a serious blow to Toyota’s credibility. James Bell, an analyst at Kelley Blue Book, said, “The news that Toyota has expanded this recall, in conjunction with a statement that removes blame from the previously identified faulty floor mats, is proof that the situation is slowly spiraling out of control. As a company with a reputation for steadiness, these must be uncomfortable days for Toyota.”
Indeed, Toyota’s handling of this has been ham-handed, because it’s long been obvious that many of the reported cases have nothing to do with floor mats. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating a 2009 Texas case in which a Toyota Avalon spun off a Dallas road and into a pond, killing four. The floor mats? They were in the trunk.
The recall should have been comprehensive from the get-go. A Los Angeles Times report, hotly contested by Toyota, concluded, “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.”
I’ve continued to field reports through MNN of sudden acceleration in Toyotas (and other cars as well). According to ABC-News, which has been covering the issue extensively, more than 60 new cases have been reported since last year, when Toyota said that its earlier floor mat recall had fixed the problem.>
A possibility that sudden acceleration is related to electromagnetic interference in throttle-by-wire systems may merit further investigation, and could explain why many non-Toyota cases have also been reported. Ohio attorney Thomas Murray, who’s handling 20 such cases, points to interference as the cause. “This is a 30-year cover-up by the entire industry. We have hundreds of smoking guns, and they know exactly what the problem is,” he told me.
But Hanson says that Toyota thoroughly investigated electronic interference as a cause. "Tests by Toyota and NHTSA showed no isues," he said.
Here’s one of the first-hand reports e-mailed to me:
“I’m in Saudi Arabia, Riyadh City. I have Toyota Land Cruiser 2009 since Feb. 2009. Two days ago, I was driving on 30/40 Km/h speed before my car is suddenly accelerated to a very high speed I believe it was 90+ Km/h. Unfortunately I was very close to T-Shaped road, I turned right with this high speed and found another car in front of me we crashed with minor injuries. But until the moment I don't believe what happened.”
Here’s another one:
“I own a 2005 Toyota Tacoma. It is my daily driver and my husband drives it on occasion. We have both experienced the truck surge in RPMs while sitting at a stoplight. The truck feels like it wants to take off on its own. We both responded with pressing harder on the brakes. Although nothing like what you described has happened to us, I am wondering if they experienced the same thing prior to their sudden acceleration.”
Here's a CBS-TV report on the latest developments:
Toyota dealers have been replacing mats and shortening and/or replacing gas pedals, but if the problem is electronic that certainly won’t help. The latest recall affects Camrys (2007-2010), Corollas (2009-2010), RAV-4s (2009-2010), Avalons (2005-2010), Matrixes (2009-2010), 2010 Highlanders, Tundras (2007-2010) and Seqoias (2008-2010).
Toyota says if you experience the problem to brake with "firm and steady" pressure. But you should also switch the car into neutral as soon as possible.