Toyota at the Crossroads

The context: More drivers are beginning to complain of sudden unintended acceleration after the recent fixes in response to massive recalls by Toyota.   Some of these complaints may not be legitimate but others likely are.   As the Toyota recall story was building to a crescendo leading up to the congressional hearings, many owners of Toyota vehicles have taken the following position in recent weeks.   “I have owned one or more Toyota vehicles for a long time. They have been very reliable.   I can understand that something can go wrong once in a while, but Toyota will find the problem and will fix it.   Meanwhile, if I can find a Toyota at a good price, that’s not a bad deal, is it?”   Very reasonable.    This argument also explains the less-than-expected drop in Toyota sales in February 2010 (about 9.5% when some analysts expected a bigger drop).

Now, if Toyota begins to be perceived as being unable to find and fix a problem that is safety-critical (who wants to encounter SUA with your family in the car?), the tables can turn very rapidly.  Hondas, Nissans and Hyundais will sell well, while many others will look at vehicles made by the Detroit Three.  And many are likely to be pleasantly surprised that the quality level, designs and prices of those other cars are not so bad after all.     Credibility can be lost very quickly and rebuilding reputation can take a long time.

It’s precarious times for Toyota from that perspective.   With about 20 complaints of cars with “fixes” reporting SUA, Toyota has said “This represents only a ‘tiny fraction’ of the cars” reporting the problem.    I am no PR expert, but this does not sound like a good defense in the public sphere of consumers.   (These numbers are just from the last 2-4 weeks).   Loyal Toyota owners are watching.

On a related note, the US House Energy and Commerce Committee is now asking Toyota to

  1. Submit internal documentation and detailed reports from the various tests that Toyota conducted on their ETCS electronics.
  2. Provide names of Toyota engineers and technical experts who worked on and tested the ETCS – so that they can be interviewed.

Both are steps that I have advocated (read this blog posting for example).

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2 Responses to “Toyota at the Crossroads”

  1. Fritz Mills Says:

    I have seen a number of comments on the Internet that seem to indicate that Toyota’s accelerator communicates _wirelessly_ with the ECU. If that is true (and I found a Web site for the 2009 ACTE Summer Conference that had a session entitled “Toyota USA “Drive By Wire””, with the description, “This course will provide an overview of the operation of the Toyota electronic “wireless” throttle control system. We will take a look at the design and function of the Toyota ETCS and how it is integrated with Toyota’s Vehicle Stability Control System.”), and inasmuch as cell phones are prohibited on airplanes due to potential interference, is it possible that the problem is RF interference from an external source interfering with the wireless throttle link? There is a strip mall near me, and whenever I park there, I have to use my door key manually to lock my car – the electronic lock/unlock button doesn’t work. This is the only place that happens. It happens consistently, so I am sure there must be some kind of RF interference in that parking lot. But you couldn’t diagnose the problem unless you were in the parking lot.

    • safetransportation Says:

      The Toyota accelerator does not communicate wirelessly with the ECM (Engine Control Module). Safety-critical systems do not use wireless communications if they can avoid it. Tire pressure monitors and keyfobs use wireless communications. It is very understandable that keyfods use wireless ; many keyfobs use the 2.5GHz frequency which is in the license-free ISM band. So, others can also use it (like WiFi, cordless phones, etc.) causing interference.

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