Toyota Playing Its Version of Russian Roulette

The number of SUA (sudden unintended acceleration) complaints in Toyota vehicles that have been ‘fixed’ keeps rising on a daily basis.   The House Energy and Commerce Committee has asked Toyota for its documents showcasing their internal tests of throttle control electronics and for access to Toyota engineers who worked on it.   Given all this, what is Toyota doing?  They have decided to aggressively launch a marketing campaign to sell its cars to Toyota loyalists.   What is going on?

Here’s my interpretation. ..  (All numbers are within a factor of about 2. )  There are 1000-2000 complaints of SUA  over the past 9 years in the US with about 20 million Toyota vehicles.  This translates to a failure rate of approximately 1 in 10,000.   This rate could go up as more complaints are filed in part due to an increased awareness of SUA.   (There will also likely be an increase in the reported tally due to human errors being reported as vehicular problems.)    Overall, however, there appear to have been a few tens of deaths and a few hundreds of injuries that could be attributed to SUA.   Taking a legal perspective, even if Toyota loses all these lawsuits, the total liability is perhaps less than $500 million in the US.    Toyota may have just made a business decision that it can always settle injury/death cases in court, and be aggressive in the market as always.    Traditional business model, you say?   If electronics is indeed shown to be a problem later, Toyota will immediately lose face, alienate its heretofore loyal customer base and be liable for potentially billions of dollars.    A bunch of executives within Toyota must be hoping that they have calculated these odds correctly.   The odds they may have calculated could indeed be the 1 in 10,000 failure rate.  But one may  be able to show a trouble-making sequence in the electronics of a vehicle that did experience SUA before.   The odds of somebody showing such a sequence, I believe, are (much) better than 1 in 10,000.  The House Committee can also  follow through and find additional information.

Let me re-emphasize: Toyota can demonstrate to a lot of customers the correctness of its system by installing a “black-box” (event data recorder) in vehicles that have exhibited SUA (and even more so on vehicles which have exhibited multiple SUA incidents).  If/when the driver claims SUA, the data in the black box would show where the fault lies – with the driver or with the carmaker.  We have not seen this testing happen – and its marked absence only reinforces the skepticism of many people like me.


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