Is Toyota The New Audi?

Holman Jenkins, writing in the Wall Street Journal last week, raised some questions about whether Toyota's runaway acceleration problem is really caused by the cars? A few key points got me to thinking of Audi in the 1980s. I'd want changes made if my car just took off at max velocity. But what if the driver causes it? Should Toyota take care of this? Or is the problem a system that assesses blame first and looks at data later? Some highlights: "A San Diego Lexus dealer installed an unapproved and ill-fitting floor mat in a loaner car. The mat was placed in the car upside-down and wasn't fastened down. The dealer ignored a previous customer's complaint that the mat interfered with the gas pedal. The next borrower didn't or couldn't shift into neutral when the pedal jammed. Four people died in a horrible crash." "Before the accident, Toyota issued recalls and service bulletins related to floor mats. How is this not the dealer's fault? Not a single incident of runaway speeding has been traced to the sticky pedals Toyota subsequently recalled. No electronic defect has been found." "[If Toyota had installed a brake interlock, Toyota's] runaway-vehicle complaints would probably be in line with those of [it's] competitors. It's the fix that fixes whether the problem is pedal blockage, electronic glitch or a driver's foot on gas and brake at the same time. The only problem it doesn't fix is a driver mistakenly stomping on the gas—the actual source of most unintended acceleration. "Years ago, [a] George Washington University neurologist coined the term "neurobehaviorally impaired" for such drivers: "He or she acts too fast or not fast enough; steps on the accelerator when the intention is to put on the brake; slips the gear into reverse instead of forward; comes to a full stop when the sign merely indicates 'yield.' In all cases, the response is almost but not quite appropriate to the situation . . . [and] leaves a wake of dented fenders, sore necks and inflamed tempers." "In 1987, the feds received 2,500 complaints of "unintended acceleration," more than in the previous 20 years combined. "The defect, which involves almost all makes of cars, causes them to accelerate without warning. . . . Sophisticated electronic controls are now believed to play a role in the problem," concluded the New York Times." "Two years later, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued its own exhaustive report on the post-Audi fury: "pedal misapplication."" The Wikipedia entry that covers the Audi case is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sudden_unintended_acceleration The whole Wall Street Journal piece is worth reading (Jenkins entertainingly imagines the thoughts of Akio Toyoda before Congressional testimony), but you have to be a subscriber: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704506104575083180509210638.html?mod=WSJ_article_RecentColumns
by BillS on March 04, 2010 - 6 p.m.