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. Read more

Toyota's "Wins for Toyota-Safety": $100 Million by Avoiding Finding the Acceleration Problem

The Toyota hearings this week–particularly Wednedsay’s hearing featuring Akio Toyoda–are looking more and more devastating. The Detroit News reports that the House Oversight Committee has an internal Toyota presentation from last July boasting that it had saved $100 million by doing its bullshit floor mat recall in 2007, rather than isolating the real source of the acceleration problem.

Toyota Motor Corp. officials bragged in July about avoiding a costly wholesale recall related to sudden acceleration complaints, a document turned over to congressional investigators shows.A limited recall saved the Japanese automaker, whose executives will be grilled by congressional committees starting Tuesday, more than $100 million, according to the presentation obtained by The Detroit News on Sunday


The document acknowledges Toyota was still studying the issue of “sudden acceleration on ES/Camry, Tacoma, LS, etc.,” but notes that Toyota’s safety officials had saved the company significant expense by limiting the recall to 55,000 floor mats in 2007.

“Negotiated ‘equipment’ recall on Camry/ES re SA (Sudden Acceleration); saved $100M+, w/ no defect found,” the document said.

The $100 million plus in savings was listed in a section titled “Wins for Toyota-Safety Group.”

Note that the briefing was for Yoshimi Inaba, who had just started as head of Toyota North America. Inaba will still be testifying Wednesday, along with Akio Toyoda.

And this is damning for two reasons. First, boasting about the recall while admitting they hadn’t really found the solution–while pushing the floormat recall everyone knew to be totally bullshit–really speaks to the arrogance of the company. Moreover, in light of the really obvious whitewash that Toyota is still conducting–a study that by design will never find the source of the problem–it makes it clear that Toyota is still pursuing this strategy: cheap fixes rather than trying to actually find and solve the problem.

Update: And now the feds are getting into the action. (h/t scribe)

The Japanese automaker said it received a subpoena from a federal grand jury in New York seeking documents related to unintended acceleration in its vehicles and the braking system of its Prius hybrid.

Toyota also said it received a subpoena and a voluntary document request from the Los Angeles office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC is seeking documents related to unintended acceleration as well as to its disclosure policies and practices, Toyota said.


Toyota said it received the grand jury request from the Southern District of New York on Feb. 8. It received the SEC requests on Friday. It disclosed the latest requests in a filing with the SEC on Monday and said it intends to comply with the requests.

Will Akio Toyoda Testify on Brakes?

As you may know, there are a slew of hearings scheduled next week to try to understand the Toyota brake problems. The head of Toyota (and grandson of the company founder) caused a bit of a stir yesterday when he tried to correct the mistaken impression that he would testify personally.

Akio Toyoda told a press conference Wednesday morning that he would not travel from Tokyo to Washington, D.C., to answer questions from a Congressional panel on car safety. No, this is not as bad as when General Motors sicked detectives on Ralph Nader, but Toyota is getting there.

“I trust that our officials in the U.S. will amply answer the questions,” Toyoda said.

Rather than have a guy bearing the company name testify, Toyota was sending Yoshimi Inaba, President of Toyota North America and–rather significantly–someone who was away from the company for two of the years in which Toyota was not responding to its own brake problems. In addition, Inaba’s background with the company is also primarily in sales, not engineering. In other words, rather than have Toyoda testify, the company was sending a guy who, just six months after he assumed a position of authority, agreed to recall millions of cars.

At the same press conference yesterday, Toyoda said he might consider testifying personally if he was invited.

But after persistent questioning, Mr. Toyoda said he “would consider” appearing before Congress if he receives a formal invitation, which none of the committees have issued.

So, in an unsurprising move, the House Reform Committee has now done just that, invite Toyoda to testify publicly.

Dear Mr. Toyoda:

As you know, there is widespread public concern regarding reports of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota motor vehicles.  Toyota has recalled millions of its vehicles and even halted production.  In addition, there are reports that this problem may have been the direct cause of serious injury and even death.

There appears to be growing public confusion regarding which vehicles may be affected and how people should respond.  In short, the public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it.

To help clarify this situation, I am inviting you to testify at a hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday, February 24, 2010, at 10 a.m. in room 2154 Rayburn House Office Building.



Edolphus Towns


It’ll be hard for Toyoda to decline this invitation and save face. So it’ll be interesting to see how serious Toyoda is about not testifying under oath to the US Congress.

Update: Toyoda accepts.

We are pleased Mr. Toyoda accepted the invitation to testify before the Committee.  We believe his testimony will be helpful in understanding the actions Toyota is taking to ensure the safety of American drivers.