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Toyota’s Smoking Gun?

22nd February 2010

The Wall Street Journal is reporting today that among the documents Toyota has turned in to the Congressional committee investigating acceleration-gate is a potentially damning document that apparently describes as a win their success in lobbying the National Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA) to limit the recall over sudden acceleration to only 55,000 units. The document claims the save to the company was $100 million. The document also claims other wins in eliminating other potential recalls, including the Tacoma pickup.

This is just the kind of “smoking gun” that Congress and safety advocates will say “proves” that Toyota intentionally put the company’s profits above the safety of its customers. Toyota said, “Our first priority is the safety of our customers and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong. Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality. Our recently announced top-to-bottom quality review of all company operations, along with new quality initiatives and a renewed commitment to transparency are all designed to reaffirm these values.”

It is entirely inappropriate to take a page from a presentation out of context and use it like this. Of course Toyota cares about its customers – just about every company does. Just about every company also cares about its profits, and they should. It is likely that the Toyota employees that put the presentation together would regard saving $100 million as a good thing – who wouldn’t? They likely also thought that because they were successful in lobbying NHTSA to limit the scope of the recall, NHTSA agreed that more vehicles didn’t need to be recalled. Given what the letters NHTSA stand for, Toyota logically assumed that NHTSA would push for the recall if it deemed it necessary. It apparently didn’t, at least until the publicity of the San Diego law enforcement officer’s death made this a bigger, more public issue.

Did Toyota act perfectly? It seems not. But to take this piece of paper as proof that they willfully put the lives of their customers in danger is silly, and dangerous.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below. Thanks!

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Sweet Home…Tacoma?

15th February 2010

It’s getting a little hard to keep up with all of the Toyota recall news these days. Late Friday, Toyota announced yet another safety-related recall. This time it is for the Tacoma pickup. In some 2010 model year Tacoma 4WD trucks, the front drive shaft “may include a component that contains cracks that developed during the manufacturing process.  As those vehicles are used, the cracks may eventually lead to the separation of the drive shaft at the joint portion,” according to Toyota. Owners of the affected vehicles will be notified next month. Toyota says that there are approximately 8000 vehicles that have the potentially bad drive shafts.

The recalls are truly piling up now, and it’s hard to imagine how Toyota’s reputation can survive much more of this. As I’ve said before, Toyota literally built its reputation on the high quality of its products, and seemed to actively encourage its customers to think of their products as appliances, but appliances that never fail to get you where you are going. Because they have foregone trying to make any real emotional attachment to their products, how will consumers react now? You can get better quality and better styling, performance and prices elsewhere. Brands that come to mind are Ford, Chevrolet and Hyundai. This is clearly a case of living by the sword. Now the sword has turned on them, and they may die by it – or at least severely injured.

Toyota may find themselves answering this question from their customers, “If the big wheels don’t keep on turning, how will I get home to see my kin?”

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Chicago Auto Show

12th February 2010

In many ways, the Chicago Auto Show is one of the best out there. McCormick Place is a great venue, and lots more space than Cobo Hall, home of the Detroit Show. It takes a back seat to Detroit, though, because Detroit gets so many debuts. Production and concept introductions bring in the press, and the press bring attention. Chicago has many debuts this year, and if you’re in Chicago, you’ll be sure to check out these important must-see vehicles.

2011 Chevy Silverado HD – it looks pretty much the same, but nobody buys a heavy-duty pickup for fashion. The Duramax 6.6L Diesel engine is new, with improved towing capacity of 20,000 pounds for the Duramax Diesel and a top payload of 6,335 pounds for Vortec V8-fitted trucks. Curiously, Chevy introduced a new pickup that looks the same, but gave no specs on horsepower and torque. Those figures are expected sometime later. So why introduce it now at all?

2011 Ford Edge – substantially revised looks (with a gigantic grille) go with a new powertrain lineup. The existing 3.5L V6 gets a 20 HP bump, and now you can also get a 3.7L version with over 300 HP and the 2011 Edge will be the first application of the 2.0L Ecoboost engine with TBD power ratings. I guess Ford took a cue from Chevy on that one. The Edge also will be the debut of the MyFord Touch system, which we reported on for the Detroit show.

Transit Connect Electric – Ford is showing an all-electric version of the delivery van that won North American Truck of the Year. It has a top speed of 70 MPH and a range of 80 miles.

2011 Hyundai Azera – gets a new look and more power and better fuel economy from both the 3.3L V6 and the 3.8L V6. Goes on sale this spring.

2011 Toyota Avalon –  Toyota aimed to divert attention from all of its troubles by showing off the Avalon, but the media insisted on asking about the quality troubles instead. The look is updated inside and out, but I doubt most will notice. The powertrain is also carryover, but fuel economy is improved by 1 MPG.

Honda Odyssey “Concept” – This is officially a concept, but is likely to look very much like the next-gen minivan, which is expected this fall as a 2011 model. Honda expects fuel economy of 19/28, which would make it the most efficient in the segment, better even than the 2.7L 4-banger that will be available on the 2011 Toyota Sienna, introduced at the LA Auto Show in December.

Kia Ray Concept – this is a plug-in based on the Kia Forte Coupe. It has a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a 78-kilowatt electric motor. Kia says it has a range of more than 50 miles on the electric motor alone. The Ray has a range of 746 miles including the gasoline engine.

Nissan 370Z 40th Anniversary – for the 40th anniversary of the Z car, Nissan has outfitted it with some special equipment, including special wheels with red brake calipers and 40th-anniversary badges. On the inside, it has red leather seats with 40th Anniversary logos, and red stitching for the steering wheel, center stack and shift boot. You get a 40th Anniversary plaque and a commemorative 40th Anniversary satin car cover. On sale at the end of February for a base price of $38,860. The edition run is limited to 1,000 cars.

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Automotive Super Bowl Ads

9th February 2010

Car makers are always among those who pony up the big bucks to advertise in the Super Bowl. This year was no exception, even though the 2 nickels to rub together would represent a doubling of the cash balance of certain automakers. Hyundai was the most prominent of all, having several ads and being the name sponsor of the kick-off show this year. The first 5 automotive ads were from Hyundai. Take a look.

Hyundai started off with a Tucson ad. It’s a fine ad, but the Super Bowl has raised expectations of its ads so that if it’s not really clever and original, it isn’t any good. There’s nothing wrong with this ad. On the contrary, it nicely tells you about a certain attribute and why you should care. It just doesn’t stand out at all on Super Sunday.

Then this Sonata ad. Ditto.

After the coin flip (won by the Saints – the 13th time in a row that the NFC has one the Super Bowl coin flip), Hyundai gave us this gem. This one’s better, as the visual grabs your attention.

About 15 minutes later, Hyundai gave us this one, which shows a Sonata getting its electrocharge bath and then getting painted. All this while Mozart’s and Shubert’s sonatas play in the background. Get it? Again, this one grabs your attention, especially if you’ve never seen how cars get a bath before being painted.

Then, there was the Brett Favre Hyundai ad, which poked fun at Favre – his age and his indecisiveness about retiring, while comparing his longevity to Hyundai’s. This one is the only Hyundai ad that really seems like a Super Bowl ad.

Finally, we get to an ad from somebody else. This next ad is from Dodge, and has generated controversy for 2 reasons. First, Chrysler was criticized by some gods of the Potomac for spending Super Bowl-type money to buy this ad time. Personally, I think they should buy the ad time if they think it will get them the exposure they need and make some sales. When Congress starts questioning ad buys, they’ve really gone out of their expertise, assuming they have any. Second, the ad itself, like a long line of Dodge advertising, has been blasted in some quarters for being sexist and denigrating – to both sexes! If you’ve offended everybody, then you really have accomplished something in my book.

During halftime, there was a local Ford Fusion ad (in Detroit), which I won’t bore you with. It compared the Fusion to the Toyota Camry, and gave a lease payment. Not really Super Bowl material.

Acura chimed in later in halftime with this ad for the ZDX. This wasn’t a new ad for the Super Bowl. I’ve made my views known about the ZDX, and this ad didn’t change anything. I think the “?” floating around her head at the beginning might mean she’s trying to figure out what the hell that “car” is that is driving by. Maybe it’s just me. As I said, it isn’t new, so it’s not surprising to say that it really isn’t Super Bowl material either.

Volkswagen chimed in next during the 3rd quarter. It shows a reinvention of an old game involving the bug. This spot is called Punch Dub. It’s clever and lives up to the demands of the Super Bowl audience.

The next auto ad is from Kia, Hyundai’s little brother. This one is very clever, with toys that have come to life living out their fantasies. Alas, at the end, they are back to their normal existence. This one is certainly Super Bowl material. Well done.

Honda gave us this ad for the Accord Crosstour, which fits into the same so-called “category” as the Acura ZDX. That is to say, “none.” I like the ad, though. It gets your attention and conveys the product attributes that Honda wants you to know.

Late in the 4th quarter, Audi gave us this gem. This ad works on all levels. It promotes the car’s 2 attributes that Audi wants to show – it’s economical or green and it’s fun to drive. It also grabs your attention and makes you want to watch it. Over and over again.

Later in the fourth, Hyundai ran the ad with the employees carrying the Sonata again. Then there was a Chevy ad not worthy of the Super Bowl, but it did show us that Chevy has 5 Consumer’s Digest Best Buys. Then, a final ad from Hyundai during the post-game, which is the only one (other than the Brett Favre one) worthy of the Super Bowl Ad moniker. Too bad fewer people saw it, as it was after the game.

So, which are the best? In my mind, there is no contest. Audi’s “Green Police” ad rose above the rest, followed closely by Dodge. They both do what a good ad does – get your attention and then tell you something important about the product so that you remember it. In Audi’s case, it’s the green/fun to drive. In Dodge’s, it’s the male image. That you might give up much on other topics, but you will not compromise your car.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below!

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As expected, Toyota announced that it will, in fact, recall 133,000 2010 Priuses in the United States and about 300,000 in the rest of the world, for a total of 437,000 units worldwide. Toyota also included 14,550 2010 Lexus HS250h models as well, because they utilize the same anti-lock braking system as the Prius.

This picture speaks for itself. Note the Prius in the customer parking lot. Spotted today (9 Feb 2010) in suburban Detroit.

This picture speaks for itself. Note the Prius in the customer parking lot. Spotted today (9 Feb 2010) in suburban Detroit.

Toyota’s explanation of the problem is that “the anti-lock brake system (ABS), in normal operation, engages and disengages rapidly (many times per second) as the control system senses and reacts to tire slippage.  Some owners have reported experiencing inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of the brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the anti-lock brake system (ABS) is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction.” They go on to say that the affected vehicles are safe to drive, as increased effort will stop the car.

The fix is an update to the software that controls the anti-lock brakes. This update was already introduced for Priuses in production last month. Toyota says the update will take about 30 minutes.

Hidden away in the release is another recall, this one for the 2010 Toyota Camry. This one is for brakes also, but is unrelated to the Prius/HS250h ABS problem. In the Camry’s case, some 4 cylinder units have a power steering pressure hose in the engine compartment that is the incorrect length. If this condition exists, a crimp on the power steering pressure hose may come in contact with a front brake tube. Should this condition continue, a hole may wear in the brake tube and deplete the brake fluid in the vehicle.  As a result, the brake pedal stroke will increase and lead to greater vehicle stopping distance. Owners will be notified within the next week or 2. If affected, your dealer will inspect and, if necessary, adjust the space between the brake tube and the power steering pressure hose crimp.  Based upon the inspection results, the dealership may need to replace the brake tube.

In yet another issue, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is considering opening a formal investigation into the 2009-2010 Toyota Corolla. An analysis by Automotive News found that the Corolla has been the subject of 83 power-steering complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration since April 2008. Seventy-six of those reports note that the vehicle unexpectedly veers to the left or right at 40 miles an hour and up. The complaints compare the issue to hydroplaning or being hit by a strong wind gust. NHTSA is reviewing the complaints and will decide whether to open a formal investigation. Following NHTSA’s initial review, a formal investigation typically begins with a preliminary evaluation which, if warranted by the evidence, can be upgraded to an engineering analysis. A recall can follow. Toyota switched from hydraulic to electric power steering with its 2009 Corolla, which first went on sale in February 2008. This is in addition to another Corolla issue. Since November, NHTSA has been investigating reports of engine stalls in the 2006 Corolla.

Wow. That’s about all I have to say. Toyota’s reputation has taken a slide so steep and so sudden that it would have been unimaginable just a few months ago. It is not just the recalls themselves that are the problem, strangely enough. The American people have a very forgiving nature. As long as you give them a real, heart-felt apology and fix the problem, they won’t hold a grudge. By all reports, Toyota has dragged its feet and has had to be forced by the US and Japanese governments to recall the biggest problem (at least in terms of number of vehicles affected – the accelerator pedals). This is why the media has been all over these issues. Toyota’s handling of these issues will be studied by students and businesses for years to come as an example of what not to do. It will be interesting to see, going forward, how they step up and if these issues continue to haunt them.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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First, Ford announced the new V6 for the 2011 Mustang with its 305 horsepower and 30 MPG. Then came the announcement of the new GT, with 412 horsepower and 25 MPG. Now Ford announces the upgrades to the Shelby GT500, the big kahuna of the Mustang lineup. The 2010 Shelby made due with only 540 horsepower; the ’11 bumps that up to 550. Torque stays at 510 lb.-ft. The engine is now made of an aluminum block instead of the iron block, and this contributes to a 102 pound weight reduction for the engine. The weight reduction helps the ’11 Shelby improve fuel economy from 14 city/22 highway to 15/23. This might not sound like much, but the 1 MPG improvement results in the first Shelby not subject to the dreaded gas guzzler tax.

New for 2011 is an SVT Performance Package for those who want even more performance out of their Shelby GT500 for racetrack-ready driving dynamics. Complete with all-new Goodyear Eagle F1 SuperCar G:2 tires that SVT engineers worked directly with Goodyear to develop, the car is ready to race. The tires offer superb dry traction and precise handling, complete with a race-inspired high-performance tread compound.

The optional package also offers unique styling, lighter wheels, a higher rear axle ratio and stiffer springs, and it is available on both the convertible and coupe. Ford’s data show the 2011 coupe with the SVT Performance Package is 3.0 seconds faster per lap than the 2010 Shelby GT500 on a 2.3-mile test track.

For 2011, Shelby GT500 also benefits from NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) improvements. Ford improved road noise by 20 percent versus the 2010 Shelby by adding sound-deadening material on either side of the instrument panel, sound absorption behind interior trim panels, and a rear wheel arch liner to reduce noise on gravel or wet surfaces – all resulting in the driver hearing more exhaust and engine sound and less road and air noise.

The Shelby GT500 convertible model features enhanced structural rigidity, with lateral stiffness improved by 12 percent versus the 2010 model. The structural improvements to the convertible gave SVT the opportunity to be more sport-oriented in the chassis tuning, without trading comfort. Along with the chassis and structural improvements, the 2011 model also will get standard 19-inch aluminum wheels.

One of the biggest changes for this Shelby is that the convertible acts and feels like a coupe,” said Jamal Hameedi, SVT chief nameplate engineer. “Before, they had a very different character, and the convertible is taking a big step in the sportiness and handling precision area, without degrading the ride.”

GT500 gets a new exhaust for 2011, roaring with an even more aggressive sound than the 2010 model. The 2.75-inch exhaust with all-new tuning helped to deliver the additional 10 horsepower.

Thus completes the powertrain upgrades for the 2011 Mustang. With a lineup that starts at 300HP and goes up to 550, the Mustang has the best engine lineup in the segment, perhaps the industry. Hopefully, I will be able to test drive this demonic engine, or at least one of its tamer brothers, sometime soon.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Ford Fusion Hybrid

7th February 2010

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

Ford Fusion Hybrid in Atlantis Green

The Ford Fusion has been around since the 2006 model year, and has always been considered a very good, nice looking car that is fun to drive. For the 2010 model year, introduced last year, the styling was updated to be more aggressive, and also given upgraded engines and a new interior. As mid-cycle freshenings go, this was fairly extensive and well-received. So well, in fact, that it was named the 2010 Motor Trend Car of the Year®.

The Fusion also added a hybrid model, which received the latest generation of Ford’s hybrid system, previously available on the Escape and Mariner SUVs. The new version is smaller, lighter and costs less than its predecessor. The main (maybe only) reason people buy a hybrid is to save fuel. There are different reasons to save fuel (lessen reliance on foreign oil/national security, to save $, curb global warming, other environmental concerns), but everybody is looking to save fuel. So how does the Fusion Hybrid stack up? As you can see in the table, the EPA rates the hybrid at 39 MPG combined, compared to 25 in the regular 4-cylinder Fusion. As the EPA calculates it, that will save you about $575/year (assumes 15,000 miles and $2.66/gallon). Not bad, but at that rate, it would take you 6¼ years to get your money back. This is based on a $3600 MSRP premium for the hybrid system, after adjusting for major equipment differences. As noted above, there are other reasons than simply dollars and cents that go into purchasing a hybrid, but if you are looking at it in only those terms, the investment doesn’t really work well.

When I picked up the Atlantis Green (a beautiful very dark green) Hybrid with 8915 miles on it, the first thing you notice is that it has what Ford calls the “Silent Start” system. As you can figure out on your own, this means that there is no “cranking” of the starter or “turning over” of the engine like in conventional cars. Instead, you twist the key (key? that’s so 20th century, Ford), and you take it on faith that the car has actually started. The only way I really knew it was ready to go is I put it in gear and it went.

The next thing you notice is the video game-like graphics populating the various infotainment screens –

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

SmartGauge with EcoGuide

one on either side of the central speedo (Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide) and the larger navigation screen on the center stack. The screen on the left side of the speedo contains various combinations of information that indicate how the engine and battery are working together. You can choose from 4 levels of information called Inform, Enlighten, Engage or Empower.

Inform is the most basic, and it only shows you the battery charge level. Next up is Enlighten, which adds a tach and an indication of the battery power being used. Engage adds the engine power being used to go with the battery, so you can try to maximize the battery usage vs. the engine. Empower offers the highest level of information. It shows you how much power you are using for the accessories (radio, climate control, lights, etc.) and also shows you how close you are to the gas engine on/off threshold vs. total power demand. This can help you to feather the accelerator to stay in the battery-powered area as long as possible if you are looking to maximize fuel economy. when you are in electric-only mode, you get rewarded with a green section at the bottom of the screen that says “EV”. At all levels except Inform, arrows on the battery charge graph show if the battery is being used or charged at any given time. It also shows green circular arrows when the regenerative brakes are active.

At this point, I should point out that the regenerative brakes are a bit of a problem. All 17,600 units built before 10/17/2009 have a software glitch that can result in a perceived loss of braking power as it shifts unnecessarily from regenerative brakes to regular. There is no actual loss of power, but the driver will have to apply extra force to obtain the necessary braking. No injuries have been reported. I experienced no brake issues of any kind.

The right side of the display shows instant fuel economy and either “efficiency leaves” or the recent efficiency as a bar graph. The leaves grow and produce more leaves as you drive efficiently, and loses them when you don’t. It’s fun to try to grow as many leaves as possible. I think that’s the point. It also shows you a trip summary every time you turn off the car, including trip fuel economy, distance traveled, gallons used and long-term fuel economy.

So how does it drive? For the most part, just like a “regular” Fusion. Which is to say, very well. The combined 191 horsepower is plenty for normal, even spirited, driving. It isn’t going win you any pinks at Thunder Road, though. But if that’s what you want, you can opt for one of the 2 different V6s (3.0L or 3.5L) that are available on the petrol Fusion. It also handles very well in the curves and the brakes, especially with the regenerative system (which uses the braking energy usually lost as heat to recharge the battery) are very good.

The Fusion Hybrid can drive up to 47 MPH in electric-only mode. I was “only” able to achieve 42 MPH. For comparison, a Toyota Prius can go 25 MPH on the battery alone. When I turned off the fan and the radio, the Fusion was so quiet in EV mode that when it came to a stop, you could clearly hear the various fluids sloshing around in their respective receptacles. It’s a bit like drinking a big glass of water and then doing jumping jacks. I never heard that in a car before.

Issues? A few. The EV mode doesn’t seem to be available when you first start driving. This is unfortunate, because emissions and fuel economy are both much worse when the engine is cold. If the battery could be utilized (assuming it is charged enough) to power the car and heat up the engine at start, both fuel economy and emissions would improve. By not having battery power available until the engine is heated completely, you also don’t get much help from the battery on a very short trip. Because my test was done in Michigan in February, the cold weather is at least partially responsible for this. Batteries simply don’t function as well in the cold.

Usually, as the computer shifts between gas, battery power and both, you do not notice it at all. As I found out testing the car, this is because you are normally applying the throttle at the time (when it shifts from battery to gas), or maybe not at all (when it shifts from gas back to battery). However, if you are attempting to maximize your economy by using the accelerator very lightly, the car shutters noticeably when shifting from EV to gas. It isn’t a violent shutter, but it is noticeable.

One other nit. As shown in the table, the hybrid gives up almost 30% of its trunk space, due to the hybrid systems. I guess this is to be expected; the battery has to go someplace, but it comes at a price.

In a variety of driving – stop & go city, highway, very gentle to full throttle, I came away very impressed with the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Overall, this is a solid performer. It gets better fuel economy than the Toyota Camry Hybrid (41/36/39 vs. 33/34/34), and the Fusion overall is more reliable than the Camry, according to Consumer Reports.

Rating: 8½ out of 10. Excellent, but not perfect.

Fusion Hybrid

Fusion I4 SEL

Base Price (MSRP)




2.5L I4 w/HEV

2.5L I4








CVT Automatic

6-speed automatic

EPA Fuel Economy (city/hwy/combined)



Curb Weight (lbs.)



Fuel Tank Capacity (gallons)



Range (city/hwy/combined)



Trunk Capacity (cubic feet)



Major Equipment Differences:

Reverse Sensing System



110-volt Power Point



Ambient Lighting



Dual LCD SmartGauge™ Cluster with EcoGuide



6CD Changer instead of Single CD



Fold down Split Rear Seat



Eco-Friendly Cloth Seating



Leather-trimmed and Heated Seats



Dual Exhaust



Regenerative Braking System



Driver’s Knee Airbag



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The Slandy Report first told you about the Prius brake issue back in December, before it was known to most of the general public. Back then, they had only recalled 3.8 million vehicles for accelerator issues. That number is now over 8 million. Back then, Toyota was not the subject of congressional investigations for potentially withholding evidence of the safety defect and for stalling before doing anything about it. Now they are. Back then, their stock was trading in the US at almost $85. Now, Toyota’s market capitalization has lost about $18 billion, or more than 15% of its value in those 6 weeks. Apparently, much can happen in 6 weeks. The Lions, however, didn’t win anymore games. They still suck. But I digress.

Toyota acknowledged the Prius issue today with this release:

Toyota is aware that NHTSA has opened a Preliminary Evaluation centered on owner complaints of a braking issue with the 2010 model year Prius. Toyota will cooperate fully with NHTSA’s investigation.

Some customers have complained of inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady application of brakes on rough or slick road surfaces when the anti-lock brake system (ABS) is activated in an effort to maintain tire traction.  The system, in normal operation, engages and disengages rapidly (many times per second) as the control system senses and reacts to tire slippage.  A running production change was introduced last month, improving the ABS system’s response time, as well as the system’s overall sensitivity to tire slippage.

This preliminary evaluation addresses owner complaints specific to the 2010 Prius.  This condition is not related to either the floor mat entrapment recall or the sticky pedal recall currently in action.

Toyota will continue to evaluate the condition as it relates to owner complaints and will keep NHTSA informed of its progress.

Toyota Toyopet - see? They were known for green cars then, too.

Toyota Toyopet - see? They were known for green cars then, too.

At this rate, all of Toyota’s vehicles will be the subject of 1 or more recalls. Which is next, the 1957 Toyopet (the vehicle that launched Toyota’s sales in the US market)? It seems that Toyota can’t buy break (pardon the pun) these days. It seems that they are suffering from the same ailment that has infected the Detroit 3. for a long time, they could do no wrong and their sales were only limited by their ambition. They made the age-old error: they began to believe their own press. They have violated the basic tenants of their own systems that are the source of their great success to this point, believing they could violate them at will with no consequences. They were wrong.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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Toyota’s New Math

3rd February 2010

Perhaps you’ve been following the news about Toyota’s “issues”. Perhaps, even, you know a bit about automotive design and engineering and can see through the PR-speak and the smoke screen that they tend to put up in front of the real truth. If so, then you have already come to the same conclusion that I have. Congratulations, but this column is not for you. This column is for the people who are taking all of the news in, and are confident that Toyota is the greenest, most altruistic company that has ever walked (several inches above) the Earth. Toyota makes the best cars and trucks anywhere, and this little glitch only proves that they’re human, even if all previous evidence indicates that their headquarters is not in Japan, but on top of Mount Olympus.

To recap, Toyota is recalling over 8 million vehicles around the world for 2 separate, but similar, problems. In some vehicles, the floor mats can interfere with the gas pedal and cause it to stay depressed even when the driver takes their foot off of it. The other is for gas pedals that, on their own, stay depressed when the driver intends to slow down. Different problems, same effect – the car doesn’t slow down when the driver intends it to slow down.

Toyota maintains that the floor mat issue is simple to fix – the mat just needs to be secured properly. In other words, customer error. Toyota is taking the step of recalling the affected vehicles to fix this.

Toyota's Pedal Fix

Toyota's Pedal "Fix"

In the other, Toyota blames the pedal itself, and said a few days ago that it has a fix for cars on the road. A small metal part will be inserted into the accelerator pedal assembly to make sure that the pedal’s springs will work as intended and force the pedal up when the customer takes their foot off.

So far, so good, right? Wrong. Toyota says only the pedals made by CTS, an Indiana supplier, are affected. Pedals made by the other supplier, Denso, are not. Denso, by the way, is partly owned by Toyota. In the world of automotive purchasing, such an arrangement is called “dual-sourcing” (as opposed to “single-sourcing”). Two (or more) companies make the same part for the same vehicle from the same set of specifications from the automaker, and are used interchangeably. Neither Toyota nor the government has indicated that CTS is to blame in any way, but only its pedals need to be fixed, not Denso’s. The pedal design is to blame, according to everybody. If it’s a design issue, then why are Denso’s parts not part of the problem?

Something doesn’t add up.

Next, the issue being “fixed” is being called unintended acceleration, as in “the car keeps going faster than I want it to.” No matter if you’re talking about the floor mat issue or the pedal issue, neither one will make the car or truck go faster. The both would prevent the car from slowing down. Big difference. To be fair, to a panicking driver, these would likely feel very much the same, so maybe this is a case of a badly worded problem. However, if that were the case, wouldn’t Toyota or the US government use the proper wording when describing the problem? If the cars are, in fact, accelerating, Toyota’s “fix” won’t “fix” anything. It will simply pacify the masses while they really try to figure out the problem. If they really are accelerating, then the problem is likely to be in the vehicle’s electronics, in the software code that makes modern cars and trucks (usually) so reliable and fuel-efficient. Toyota itself said during a meeting with a congressional committee that “…sticking accelerator pedals are unlikely to be responsible for the sensational stories of drivers losing control over acceleration as their cars race to 60 miles per hour or higher.” In addition, there have been reports of the acceleration issue in vehicles that are not subject to either recall.

Something doesn’t add up.

Also, less than 2 weeks ago, Toyota said it did not know what the problem was, nor how to fix it. Yet on Monday, February 1, Toyota announced the fix, complete with a diagram, saying, “Toyota’s engineers have developed and rigorously tested a solution…” Toyota went from still investigating to a “rigorously tested” solution is less than 2 weeks. Just how “rigorous” is this solution?

Something doesn’t add up.

If the “solution” is so good for the cars already on the road, why then is the solution for cars and trucks yet to be built different? That’s right, kids, CTS is already making a redesigned accelerator pedal for the factory to use after they are back up and running next week. It is NOT the same pedal with an extra part inserted, as described above for cars on the road. Why?

Something doesn’t add up.

If the various “fixes” that Toyota is implementing do not correct the problem, they will have a PR problem that will make the Pinto look like a schoolyard argument. And something else won’t add up, either. Toyota’s sales and profits.

That’s what I think – how about you? Please leave your comments below.

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