Henry Waxman Agrees w/Me; Toyota Study Is Horrible Whitewash

Last week I promised I would come back and explain why the report Toyota had produced, purportedly claiming that they had shown they don’t have a software/electronic problem with their electronic throttle controls, did no such thing.

I never got around to doing that, but I was going to show that the report only tested the connection between the accelerator and the Engine Control Module, but never looked at what was going on in the black box of the ECM, where plenty can go wrong–and precisely the kinds of things that Toyota has been denying. I was also going to point out that the tests Exponent had done were all very basic QC tests, none of the kinds of tests that would reproduce likely causes of the throttle failure. I would have also noted that the Exponent team had pointedly excluded any software engineers–they didn’t even try to look at the software involved (or even hardware like chips).

Well, Henry Waxman has just released the letter he sent to Jim Lentz, Toyota North America President of Sales, in preparation for tomorrow’s hearing. And, after consulting with experts with 30 years of experience in this stuff, it basically lays out the case I would have made.

Second, the one report that Toyota has produced that purports to test and analyze potential electronic causes of sudden unintended acceleration was initiated just two months ago and appears to have serious flaws. This report was prepared for Toyota by the consulting firm Exponent, Inc. at the request of Toyota’s defense counsel, Bowman and Brooke, LLP. Michael Pecht, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, and director of the University’s Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE), told the Committee that Exponent “did not conduct a fault tree analysis, a failure modes and effects analysis . . . or provide any other scientific or rigorous study to describe all the various potential ways in which a sudden acceleration event could be triggered”; “only to have focused on some simple and obvious failure causes”; used “extremely small sample sizes”; and as a result produced a report that “I would not consider . . . of value . . . in getting to the root causes of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.”

Another expert consulted by the Committee, Neil Hanneman, an engineer with over 30 years experience in automotive manufacturing, product design, and product development, reached a similar conclusion, informing the Committee that the report “does not follow a scientific method” and fails to test “major categories” of potential causes of sudden unintended acceleration, including “electromagnetic interference/Radio frequency interference,” “environmental conditions,” the electronic control module (ECM), and “the software algorithms in the ECM. [my emphasis]

And let me emphasize, again, this stuff–the software, possible chip failure, interference–are all the things people have been saying probably do cause the Toyota car failures. But for some reason Toyota deliberately did not look at these issues. Here’s the explanation that Paul Taylor, one of the study’s lead authors, gave for not studying these obvious issues.

He also said that the study did not analyze the vehicles’ computer systems, seek to identify potential chip failures, examine software and programming of the vehicles’ electronic control modules, conduct any testing under differing environmental conditions, or assess the effects of electromagnetic or radio frequency interference on the electronic throttle control system. According to Dr. Taylor, these are not among his or his co-authors’ “areas of expertise.”21 Dr. Taylor said that Toyota’s counsel has hired other researchers at Exponent to conduct such tests of Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but Toyota did not request that Exponent provide interim reports on these additional studies. [my emphasis]

Of course they’re not their expertise–that’s the problem going to a damage control firm rather than an automotive firm to do this study!!

More troubling still, when Commerce Committee asked Toyota for documentation it used to justify its public claims that the electronic throttle control was not the problem, it produced still more evidence that they haven’t even tested on this question.

The electronics testing documents Toyota provided include thousands of pages of engineering standards; test methods; pre-production vehicle and component evaluations; e-mail correspondence between Toyota engineers about field testing of new features of the company’s ETCS-i system; engineering change instructions; reports on field testing of competitor vehicles; and sketches, diagrams, test engineering reports, photographs, e-mails, and Powerpoint presentations by Toyota and part manufacturers related to proposed fixes for “sticky pedals.” Except for [the Exponent] report, the documents did not include any analyses that purported comprehensively to test and analyze possible electronic causes of sudden unintended acceleration.

This is absolutely inconceivable to me. Either Toyota is withholding documents that do show they did this testing, or Toyota has, for years, refused to test for some of the most likely causes of this problem.

Toyota has known about this problem for years. It has reassured customers for years it wasn’t the electronic throttle control–at least it reassured customers when it wasn’t accusing customers of doing something themselves. And now they claim they have never systematically tested for the cause of this problem.

There’s got to be some underlying explanation. I’ll be curious to see whether we get any closer to what that explanation really is in the hearings this week.

  1. PJEvans says:

    TPM has a story (under ‘news’) that Toyota has been subpoena’d by both a grand jury and the SEC. It’s about to get very messy at their HQ.

      • scribe says:

        I wouldn’t expect to get anythng substantive out of the hearings now that there’s a grand jury or, alternatively, nothing out of the grand jury in the event we do get something at the hearings./

        If Toyota talks at the hearing, then they claim the Ollie North defense to criminal charges.

        IF Toyota wants, they take the Fifth at the hearing and protect themselves against the grand jury.

        Neither is really appealing to Toyota from a PR POV, but staying out of jail is staying out of jail, and it beats going to jail in every way conceivable.

  2. qweryous says:

    Here is what one high ranking official at NHTSA had to say in 2007. Nichole R. Nason was appointed by Bush to be the Administrator of the NHTSA.

    ““Ms. Nason felt it was necessary for N.H.T.S.A. to have a “central spokesperson” and “we were finding a lot of stuff did not need to be on the record,” David Kelly, her chief of staff, told me. He also insisted, after our telephone conversation, that he did not want to be quoted and had intended to speak only on background. (My notes show no such request.)””

    Excerpt from “Whats Off the Record at NHTSA? Almost Everything” by Christopher Jensen Aug 22, 2007 LINK:

    I posted on the administration of the NHTSA and the gag order imposed apparently on the entire agency.
    Which I posted at 11:25 am not knowing that there would be at least two Toyota threads today and that it actually belonged here.
    That post is located LINK:

  3. Becca says:

    We’ve owned Toyotas for years and have been appalled at their stonewalling. When the report first came out, with the suggest “fix” being to remove driver’s-side floor mats, I knew we were being BS’d.

    That didn’t quite make it, so then they suggested modifying (shortening) the gas pedal and/or trimming those floor mats — again, fixes we’re talking are only a few bucks at most.

    From the accident descriptions, it was clear that in most of the cases, we’re talking about cars whose engines just ran wild. Which suggests in these new ‘drive by wire’ vehicles that something electronic (hardware or software) had gone wrong.

    This is expensive to diagnose and even more expensive to fix, especially if it’s something that would require replacement of the on-board computer. Unfortunately, those in positions of responsibility at Toyota forgot one cardinal lesson: Cover-ups ultimately fail.

    • Hmmm says:

      Also a Toyota consumer here. My intuition on the whole thing has always been that there must be an intractable, un-reproduceable failure mode in the electronic control systems. One possible source could be the interaction of multiple computerized subsystems — the aggregate, combinatorial number of possible system states is so large that testing all state transitions is impossible, yet a couple state-combos cause unexpected stimuli to some subsystems, and consequently undesigned behaviors in those subsystems. Another possible source could be if any non-deterministic software methods such as fuzzy logic are used — if not specifically designed to avoid these side effects, these techniques while generally stable also bring an inherent possibility of generating undesigned outputs for unexpected combinations of inputs. Generally speaking, exceedingly rare occurrences of undesigned behaviors would be consistent with either source. As would an inability to design a fix, since unlike say a tire issue the problem’s not particularly subject to being found through isolation.

      To state the uber-obvious: Of course undesigned behaviors is about the last thing you want in your car. I’m glad I’m driving much less these days, and that all drivers of this car know about the both-feet-on-the-brake-then-Power-button-for-3-seconds maneuver.

    • PJEvans says:

      I had trouble with the floor-mat reason, because the floormats in my car fasten with hooks on the floor, so they don’t slide. (Mine haven’t moved in eight years.) The alternate version, that it was caused by aftermarket mats, didn’t make any more sense to me.

  4. earlofhuntingdon says:

    I suspect we are well into Clinton “is” country here. All the relevant FMEA analysis documents, which Toyota’s engineers almost certainly did (this problem would affect its cars worldwide, not just those sold in North America) are written in Japanese, which one might argue are not documents to Americans, since only English counts.

    I’ll never forget the stationery of one top Japanese adviser for a large keiretsu. It’s logo was a bare-faced: “Deus ex machina”. I hope that practical immunity is one rabbit Toyota and its advisers fail to put out of their, er, hat.

  5. behindthefall says:

    Toyota’s actions are certainly not those of a body which wants to find an answer to something. As one of the quoted experts said, there’s no trace of scientific method. Somebody knows d**ned well what the problem is, and they don’t feel like having to pull the ECMs out of every by-wire vehicle that they’ve ever built, so they act like this, instead.

  6. orionATL says:

    toyota’s behavior re the acceleration problem is leading to an erosion of it’s “trustwothiness”.

    i find it hard to fathom how the company could allow its senior officials to continue to underwrite this extraordinary cover-up.

    the simplest explnation is that toyota is as reflexively aggressive in dealing with aggrieved customers and govt regulators as it is with it’s suppliers.

    another is that toyota’s legal dept is in the driver’s seat and are conducting this cover-up because the cost of not doing so exceeds any damage to the company done by the cover-up.

    if the latter, it must be one hell of a liability – rather like the tobbacco companies’ liability.

  7. emptywheel says:

    Here it is: Toyota has known this is software since 2005.

    The internal document obtained by CBS News appears to contradict Toyota’s claims. Dating back five years, it tracks Toyota’s “monthly progress” in addressing “Surging back and forth sensation at constant throttle” in 2006 Lexus hybrids like the RX400h model. Toyota engineer Masahiro Ikeda notes surging “between 39-44 miles per hour” and “at 70 mph.” The “fix”? Redesigning software for the car’s Electronic Control Unit or ECU. “Software planned for first week in August,” the internal document says.

    In a response on Monday, Toyota acknowledged the internal reports of surging and the software fix. But a spokesman said it wasn’t a problem of unintended acceleration; it was a more subtle rocking sensation that caused a seasick feeling and was fixed for customer comfort.

    Which means all this lying is about either preventing having to do this fix, or preventing admitting they can’t fix it.

    • emptywheel says:

      Here’s one more point about this.

      If this is true, then it means that Toyota deliberately withheld the engineering reports of them working on software–as I speculated in the post. But the fact this is breaking the night before their hearing is really fucking damning to Toyota.

      • hctomorrow says:

        Or it could be just what they say, an unrelated problem, already corrected.

        The media has been conflating this into one issue, when in fact it seems to be a series of problems that may be completely unrelated: unintended acceleration in some cases, sticky brake pedals/floor mats in other cases, and then the 2010 Priuses having a slight braking glitch in their software that has already been acknowledged as a software error. Now we have a story about Lexuses not having smooth acceleration at some speeds.

        They could be lying, but I see no evidence in the CBS article that this is the case.

    • Cujo359 says:

      I’m going to guess it’s the latter.

      Software or electronics problems like this are somewhere between difficult and impossible to solve. It doesn’t seem to happen enough to be reproducible. That’s a big handicap when you’re trying to diagnose a problem. It’s difficult and time consuming, and thus expensive.

      What they’d probably have to do to have a chance of finding this problem is a complete software audit of any systems connected with the ignition and fuel systems, and a thorough simulation of all the electronics. Like I said, time consuming and expensive, and at the end of all that they still might not know what the problem is or was.

      I don’t work in the automotive industry, so I don’t have a feel for the level of complexity in the software and electronics involved. I have quite a bit of experience in chasing down gremlins in other embedded and general-purpose computer systems. Doing things like this isn’t easy, and there’s always the risk that at the end of such an effort you still won’t know what the problem was. Meanwhile, upgrades in either electronics or software may just make the problem go away in future models.

      Eventually, enough upgrades or design changes will make the problem go away.

      I’m just glad I own a Toyota that’s too old to have this problem.

  8. orionATL says:


    i cannot imagine from whence you summon the intellectual energy to tackle so many important but very disparate topics -torture lawyers on one end to toyota lawyerisms on the other.

    (let alone the physical energy.)


  9. orionATL says:


    a very good idea. let’s proceed.

    then again, thinking in terms of (very) old-fashioned dunking,

    why not put several toyota poobahs in a lexus with known acceleration problems and give them the opportunity to take a the real wild joy ride some of their customers have taken, perforce. (floormats in the trunk, of course.)

  10. jo6pac says:

    Toyotas race to be bigger than GM they became GM. They were run by Americans until a family memeber came back to run it and try a solve all of the problems. I would look at the big pickup to go away and up to 6 plants closing in the US.

  11. SueTheRedWA says:

    Two summers ago my Jeep Commander started having sporatic problems with the brakes seizing up and the vehicle vibrating severely. On the third occurance, my husband, following behind as I went to the dealership, checked the brake temperatures with a heat gun and they were over 300 degrees. The dealer was unable to find the problem. Finally, I realized what was going on. About the time the problem started, we had (very unusual for my area) business and home robberies. Twice my neighbors stopped the actual robbers as they came up my long driveway and sent them on their way. Because of that I started keeping the garage windows closed. Add to that, it was a 45 minute drive over a small mountain range to where I was working and the location was in a steep valley and very hot. Basically, after four days of not cooling down either my anti-slip or ABS sensors started to malfunction. Turning on the heater in the car caused the trapped heat to leave the engine compartment and the problem went away until I turned the heat off.

    I took it to the dealer three times, because it was scary. Just like with Toyota, the computer sensor showed NO error codes after all three incidents. The day after I dropped the vehicle off the last time, I went down to the dealer and took my Jeep out for a drive in hot weather up and down mountains and put over a hundred miles on it trying to replicate the problem, but couldn’t, just like the dealer couldn’t. I have not had the problem since, because I’m not in that same situation (driving and the crooks were caught quickly) and my vehicle hasn’t been in a situation where it can’t cool down.

    I felt like the Jeep dealership tried to be helpful, but since the error codes weren’t generated with this problem it was hard to figure out what happened. I’m mentioning this, because there is a lot we don’t know about the situations with the Toyotas and want someone to look for accumulated heat as a possible issue.

  12. temptingfate says:

    Surging, can be related to any number of things. Without knowing about whether the cruise control was or the kinds of fuel and the whether the software was “learning” combustion ratios or misapplying them no conclusions can be reached about it. So far there have been Audi style unintended acceleration stories mixed in with other more likely issues around the gas pedal sticking. Having, through my own silliness as a kid had an older model Corvette with a sticking throttle (generic floor mat that I put in) I can say that particular car didn’t run away with itself and almost certainly had more horsepower with which to accomplish it and most Toyotas.

    Part of what might pass as a covering up could actually be about management or engineers not understanding the reported problems. Where they might have appeared to cover up is probably not any different than similar circumstances for other manufacturers. When Toyotas burn to the ground even when parked and the key removed from the ignition, like more than a few Fords did a few years back, then it will certainly be time to become concerned. Even at that point it might be useful to remember that manufacturers, over the last 30 years have had a lot of recalls but all of those companies are still doing business.

    As for whether Toyota, or any other manufacturer in the past, didn’t look at the correct set of problems in the past – hindsight is always 20 / 20. The old saw about finding your keys only after looking everywhere else has always been true. The problem for people that build complex things is that they are never sure if there even are any keys to look for in the first place.

    Personally I’d love to drive and look at of the Lexus truck like things that is supposed to have a acceleration problem. Just as the Audi situation was shown to be pilot error my money is that the same thing is true in this case.

    Since our government is now a major investor, which required Congress to overcome major cognitive dissonance, in GM and Chrysler it is hard to take the new microscope to the companies they are not invested in without a grain or two of salt.

  13. canadianbeaver says:

    So the gist of all your posts Marcy, is that Toyota knowingly sells defective products. NEWSFLASH. They all do! So? Official unemployment is somewhere in the 20% range, and estimates of “underemployed” are in the 30% range, and that isn’t touching on welfare…..Toyota creates jobs so let’s all trash Toyota since the Big 3 have already been bailed out and are in the process of moving almost all jobs overseas or where the labor is cheaper. I don’t follow the logic anymore. People are hurting, losing their houses, and desparately need jobs, so the progressives are supposed to help this by attacking corporations. Well, corporations suck, we all know that. They are in it for the money and don’t care how many are hurt or killed. Betcha Toyota will never come close to killing as many as the US military has in the last 8 years in the MidEast. Conclusion….there are far more important things right now. It’s the same as this nonstop healthcare scam. Meant to distract, and if you follow the blogs at all, it is working amazingly.

  14. techno says:

    FDL is one of my favorite sites. I would hate for it to lose credibility over this Toyota matter.

    1) We have been down this road before. Audi almost had its reputation ruined over allegations of “unintended acceleration” that were scientifically impossible to reproduce. Even 60 Minutes joined in this baseless slander. About all it proved was that being technologically illiterate did not disqualify anyone from being a “journalist.” Hint: If someone claims their car kept accelerating while they were pushing the brakes as hard as possible–they are nuts or lying. Fact: There is no automobile on the road that doesn’t have WAY more brakes than engine.

    2) In our house, we have two Toyota products–a 2003 Camry and a 1996 Lexus LS. Both vehicles have been virtually trouble-free and when those few situations have arisen where we had to interact with the repair departments, the problems were fixed right, the first time, for a fair price. The first time I visited the Lexus repair desk and listened to the other service reps schmooze the Lexus ladies, I came away muttering to myself, “I am a preacher’s kid and I wasn’t that polite to my mother–IN CHURCH.”

    You are going to need more than the word of Henry Freaking Waxman before I will BEGIN to believe that somehow Toyota has started selling junk–deliberately. Ask Waxman to find one Lexus owner that doesn’t just LOVE his car–and reliability will easily be in the top tens reasons why. I mean, doesn’t Waxman have a corrupt banking or health care system to fix? These problems are FAR more serious than ANY quality-control problems Toyota has EVER had.

  15. kidlacan says:

    This is not the first time in recent memory that Toyota has stonewalled / refused to acknowledge customer complaints related to the ECM. I have a 2003 Corolla on its third catalytic converter because of issues with ECM algorithms related to emissions control. Two dealerships and an independent mechanic haven’t been able to tell me why the check-engine light is permanently illuminated or why the car is convinced that its emissions system is constantly failing; both dealerships just shrugged and kept saying that a car past 90K miles needed a new catalytic converter (at $1300 + labor) and that, when the problem remained that the aftermarket converters must be failing. Coincidence, you know.

    Looking online, this appears to have been a chronic problem with Toyotas of that year, and known to be a coding issue with the ECMs, and though Toyota offered a fix (flash the module, then recode), the dealerships had no idea about it. I had to find the service bulletin myself and show it to them. Flashing the ECM didn’t fix the problem. ECMs produced at two US factories with certain production codes were marked for free replacement by Toyota, but there was no recall and no procedure for notifying owners. I don’t know whether ECM replacement would fix the problem; the ‘fixed’ software patch didn’t solve my car’s problems and at length I was just told to ignore the check-engine light whenever it came on.

    This is not nearly as serious a problem as the accelleration issue, but Toyota’s refusal to listen to owners and to fix their defective cars seems, to me at least, to be a chronic problem and should not be written off as a distraction, necessarily. Yeah, Congress is using it as a chance to look semi-productive, but Toyota obviously doesn’t care enough to address these problems on its own. People shouldn’t have to die to keep unemployment numbers a fraction lower and a company’s profit margins a lot higher.

  16. ThingsComeUndone says:

    But for some reason Toyota deliberately did not look at these issues.

    Because Lawyers are running the show they are worried about liability so they turn over information only if they have too.
    Congress however has finally gotten a clue about how to do an investigation they brought in real scientists and engineers.
    The stuff Toyota turned over was meant to fool other lawyers when a company lets lawyers and accountants not inventors, scientists and engineers call the shots its time to leave the stock.
    There is always Honda, GM with the Volt looks better Prius buyers should defect.

    • hctomorrow says:

      Oh lord.

      Yeah, I’m a Prius owner, and that’s not going to happen. Aside from the fact that lithium-ion cars are an environmental *disaster* that will lead to strip-mining some of the most pristine land left on the planet, every GM car my family has ever owned has been an unreliable POS. We’ve spent many thousands of dollars to replace mysterious ‘sensors’ that fail at fairly regular intervals, seemingly just to generate a revenue stream for GM service departments.

      Better than the Chryslers we’ve had, which just fell apart completely (I had my own complete brake failure with one of those, trying to get off the highway onto an off-ramp while going 65 mph – tons of fun). Not quite as good as the Ford, which lasted 50k miles before the engine block cracked like a bad egg.

      Defect? For an untested American hybrid with serious environmental issues, or a Honda Prius-clone with far inferior mileage? You must be joking.

      • techno says:

        I am with you. You know, I think that Toyota just has TOO many satisfied owners to fall victim to slander. My Lexus is 14 years old with 135,000 miles and I’ll bet it has less problems than most new cars in showrooms. Still gets 27+ mpg on trips. Still quiet enough to listen to classical music. Still smooth enough so that last spring, I drove 940 miles in one day by myself and wasn’t even stiff the next day and I am 60 years old. The Toyota bashers are up against a LOT of evidence.

        • hctomorrow says:

          I get especially tired of hearing about the Volt, myself. All lithium-ion hybrids are a bad idea; globally speaking, we have extremely scarce resources in terms of industrially useful lithium, most locked up in high, remote mountain ranges like the Andes in Bolivia or the Tibetan plateau. The Volt though, wow. It has a honkin HUGE li-ion battery. I’m waiting with a sort of grim fascination for the day when your Free Tibet lobby comes to blows with your Volt lobby after China strip-mines Lhasa. Or when laptops shoot up a hundred bucks in price because you can’t get lithium for their battery packs. Or the inevitable fires and battery explosions; even if they engineer the battery perfectly, it’s going to get into wrecks, and then you have a very large toxic chemical fire waiting to happen.

  17. paz3 says:

    Toyota makes quality cars.

    The Japanese have a culture where losing face is overriding.

    Safety issues where electronics (electronic control module – ECM – and the related cruise control) are scary to consumers.

    Toyota, despite it’s deserved reputation for quality, is somewhat ruthless in its drive to dominate the auto industry. (I know Toyota’s attitude well from automobile racing.)

    Mix it all together.

  18. bilejones says:

    Funny how this stuff works.
    1. Just like Microsoft, Toyota hasn’t really played the “pay the politicians” game. Hearings and lawsuits are bound to follow. Anybody want to bet what happens to Toyota’s spending on lobbyists is going to be in 5 years?
    2. Govt buys car company. Govt finds problems at rivals.

  19. researcher says:

    i worked with toyota folks years ago and the old guys were humble but the newer guys like 40 years of age appeared to be very arrogant and I thought to myself could this arrogance come back to haunt them.

    maybe it did but the toyota production system is the best in the world for producing quality cars.

    but they are always looking for a cheaper part to produce and i think it has come home to haunt them.

    20 years ago I told them to put a latch on the floor of their cars and trucks to stop the mats from moving forward and possible cause the gas peddle to stick and they laughed at me.

    guess they are not laughing now.

    success can be as harsh of a teacher as failure maybe more so.