Toyota’s Sudden Acceleration Problems: What Did It Know and When Did It Know It?

The US Congress (and Numerous Lawyers) Intends to Find Out

2 min read

Illustration of a car with front-end damage.

As most of you probably have heard by now, Toyota Motors has announced several more recalls this week on top of the one the company announced last week in regard to accelerator problems with a number of its vehicles.

On Tuesday, Toyota announced that it was going to suspend the production and sales of the Camry, Corolla and Avalon sedans, Matrix wagon, RAV4 crossover, Tundra pickup, and Highlander and Sequoia sport utility vehicles “until a remedy is finalized” in regard to their defective accelerator pedals.

Next, on Wednesday, Toyota announced that it was expanding the recall list of vehicles with the potential for “pedal entrapment” to now include the 2008-2010 Highlander, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Venza, 2009-2010 Matrix and the 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe.

Then yesterday, Toyota announced a recall of its cars in Europe and in China.

Also yesterday, the US House Energy and Commerce Committee of the US Congress announced that it would be holding hearings on the 25th of February to look into the whole sudden unintended acceleration issue involving Toyota vehicles. The Committee is going to want to know when Toyota knew about the problem and why it has taken so long for the company to address it.

For instance, according to this report, Toyota has known about the problem with sticking accelerators since at least March 2007.

The US Congress will also no doubt be asking Toyota about whether there is an engine electronic throttle-control system (ETCS-I) problem on top of the floor mat and pedal linkage problems it has admitted to, which some are blaming as yet another problem with Toyota vehicles.

Congress will also no doubt ask Toyota why it didn’t install a brake override system as standard equipment in its vehicles like other car manufacturers have done.

And after Congress finishes its turn at questioning Toyota executives, the lawyers are then going to get their turn. Lawsuits involving Toyota vehicles and sudden acceleration are springing up like mushrooms after a summer rain.

Toyota's competitors are also getting into the act, with GM and Ford offering incentives to Toyota owners to switch to their vehicles. Other car companies will no doubt be doing the same soon.

The problems with Toyota are also reported to have begun to undermine the confidence of Japanese consumers in the company, something once thought unthinkable.

Toyota no longer looks like the company that could do no wrong. It could be a long while before Toyota gets its reputation for outstanding quality and safety back.

The whole episode is starting to remind me of the problems the US Navy had with fixing its Mark XIV torpedoes in  World War II. For the first 18 months of the war, submarine commanders were reporting that there were a high number of faulty torpedoes.

There were, in fact, multiple flaws with the torpedo design, but the Navy’s Bureau of Ordnance stubbornly refused to believe the submarine commanders’ reports of reliability problems with the Mark XIV. Instead, it said submarine commanders were using the supposed problems with their torpedoes as an excuse for their own poor seamanship.

It took some time to overcome the opposition of the Bureau of Ordnance, but the flaws were eventually discovered and fixed one at a time and the Mark XIV became a reliable weapon.

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