Thursday, August 26, 2010

Toyota warned dealers of pile-up risk in 2007

Bernie Woodall, Soyoung Kim and Kevin Krolicki DETROIT Fri Mar 26, 2010 8:45am EDT Related News Toyota matter on Reuters special reportThu, Mar twenty-five 2010Timeline: Toyota warned of floormat risk given 2007Thu, Mar twenty-five 2010Loyalty of Toyota drivers shakenThu, Mar twenty-five 2010 Related Video Video Toyota notice years prior to to recall Thu, Mar twenty-five 2010 < 1 / 3 > Preston Prue, 60, a 35-year maestro of the Syracuse Police Department, drives his 2009 Toyota Camry SE past the mark on I-81 where the stifle stranded last Dec nearby his home in Syracuse, New York Mar 20, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Fenster

DETROIT (Reuters) - When Toyota Motor Corp resolved that clearly submissive floormats acted a risk in all of the cars and trucks, the automaker sent a sheer notice dictated to forestall crashes.


"If the floormat is NOT scrupulously placed and secured, it could trip and meddle with the transformation of the pedals during pushing and competence means an accident," Toyota said. "NEVER implement some-more than one building pad at a time in the driver"s seating position."

The customarily problem: roughly no one in the American pushing open saw the warning, that was expelled in Sep 2007 -- dual full years prior to to Toyota voiced the initial in a fibre of recalls receiving target at the censure of unintended acceleration. That is since it was sent as a supposed "technical have have have use of of bulletin" to about 1,500 Toyota and Lexus dealers.

A scarcely matching circular went out in Apr 2008, cautioning that improperly commissioned floormats could means crashes right opposite the Toyota lineup, in the Camry, Corolla, Matrix, Sienna, Tundra, Sequoia and Land Cruiser.

In both cases, the notices sensitively supposing to Toyota dealers and filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration carried a some-more pithy notice than anything that regulators or association officials pronounced to the public.

In Sep 2007, underneath an agreement negotiated with Toyota, NHTSA expelled a six-paragraph "consumer advisory" that urged owners of the Camry and the Lexus ES 350 to barter out removed all-weather floormats for new ones and to have certain that they were cumulative to keep from slipping brazen and "causing the car to accelerate uncontrollably."

NHTSA additionally "strongly urged" drivers of the renouned Prius hybrid and Avalon sedan to have certain that their floormats were set up properly.

But zero in that open message, that was reviewed by Toyota prior to to publication, referred to the risk of crashes or to the intensity risk to alternative Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

As Toyota struggles to rebound behind from a reserve predicament that has tarnished the repute and as regulators examine what went wrong, a key questions is how an industry-wide have have have use of promulgation technical notices to automobile dealers was authorised to morph in to what critics inform as a channel for conducting recalls in all but name, fluctuating warranties and promulgation reserve notices outward the glisten of open scrutiny.

The issue is not singular to Toyota. Safety advocates starting with Ralph Nader have argued that fool around have have have use of of bulletins can spin a proceed for automakers to control "silent recalls" or to keep problems from the open perspective even as they work to scold them.

In 2004, GM was fined $1 million for attempting to sensitively correct a censure with windshield wiper assemblies on the bureau line rather than with a stop notice for vehicles already on the road.

And customarily last month, Ford Motor Co additionally faced critique when it disclosed that it had educated dealers how to correct a glitch in the program determining braking in the Fusion hybrid sedan. The No. 2 U.S. automaker customarily went open with the problem, that it does not cruise a reserve threat, after Consumer Reports pronounced that one of the exam drivers had experienced what appeared to be a loss of braking power.

But Toyota"s have have have use of this less open channel is generally sensitive. What the world"s largest automaker knew about the risks of remarkable increase in speed and alternative intensity reserve problems and how it acted to residence those issues is at the core of dozens of tentative consumer lawsuits.

It is additionally at the core of an ongoing hearing by NHTSA in to possibly Toyota supposing all of the inform that reserve regulators compulsory in a timely way. That examine could outcome in a often mystic but annoying fine. Potential penalties are capped at $16.4 million.

"We"re operative rapidly to have certain that Toyota provides us all the compulsory inform to finish the inquiry," a NHTSA central pronounced on condition that he not be named.

A Reuters hearing of the technical have have have use of of bulletins sent by Toyota in new years shows the automaker used the routine to residence peculiarity and intensity reserve problems on hundreds of thousands of vehicles.

Such repairs outward the stop complement yield a counterpoint to Toyota"s explain that it has outperformed the industry by tying car recalls over the past decade to customarily eleven percent of the total, less than the thirteen percent U.S. marketplace share.

That outline was the centerpiece of a Toyota actuality square handed out by the automaker in late Feb in Washington, customarily as Toyota Chief Executive Akio Toyoda was finishing up a exhausting day of sworn matter prior to to a U.S. congressional panel.


All vital automakers customarily send technical have have have use of of bulletins. NHTSA says it receives and reviews a smallest of 5,000 of them a year, dwarfing the array of recalls. Toyota, for example, sent 37 bulletins on the 2009 model-year vehicles, together with the floormat warning. By contrast, it launched customarily 9 recalls during the year.

The papers are customarily created in a no-nonsense, flow-chart complicated style. They often understanding with issues of consumer compensation that have zero to do with reserve -- all from the opening of air wave receivers to how mechanics should residence complaints about flat smells from heating and cooling systems.

Under the law, automakers are not compulsory to commence a stop for a car unless a forsake presents an "unreasonable risk of genocide or injury," or in the less usual cases when a car fails to encounter the smallest reserve standards set by regulators.

But in practice, the subject of possibly a forsake exists and what constitutes an irrational risk fast becomes a gray area, officials and automakers say. For that reason, NHTSA has operated often by negotiating reserve actions with automakers rather than forcing the routine in to justice where it would have to infer the box opposite a manufacturer.

In 1966, in square since of Nader"s critique of Detroit, Congress upheld the initial U.S. automobile reserve law, the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Nader pronounced policy-makers have incorrectly left soft in permitting NHTSA to provide the automobile industry as a negotiating partner rather than as a intensity authorised adversary.

"NHTSA has the majority absolute summons energy of any regulatory organisation in Washington but they never have have have use of of it," Nader pronounced in an interview. Without the hazard of that big stick, he pronounced "the automotive companies return to their usual form, that is to try to cover up and not face the music."

Toyota declined to criticism privately for this report.

The automaker, that has removed a little 8.5 million vehicles worldwide in new months, says that it is assured that ongoing recalls will correct the risks in the vehicles that have been identified. Reported episodes of unintended increase in speed in Toyota vehicles over the past decade have been associated to 51 U.S. deaths.

Toyota additionally says that a have have have use of of circular should not be deliberate a "secret inner document," as the memos are copied to NHTSA and accessible to the open on ask for a fee. "Federal law requires that (bulletins) from each car manufacturer be done accessible to eccentric have have have use of of providers and the public," Toyota pronounced in a matter this week.

Critics are not convinced. "I call it a cover myself," pronounced Joan Claybrook, NHTSA arch during the Carter administration department and one of the experts called to attest on the Toyota reserve predicament prior to to Congress in a array of hearings this year.

Toyota, she said, appeared to have famous that drivers faced most wider risks from floormats than it had communicated to consumers formed on a hearing of the dual associated have have have use of of bulletins it sent to dealers in 2007 and 2008.

The second of those notices went out sixteen months prior to to the Aug 2009 pile-up nearby San Diego that killed off-duty California Highway Patrol military officer Mark Saylor, his wife, teenage daughter and brother-in-law. Toyota has blamed an improperly commissioned floormat in the Lexus ES 350 for the lethal pile-up and launched what was afterwards the largest stop in the story a month after the accident.

"They knew that there was a problem, but they downgraded it," Claybrook pronounced of Toyota. She combined she would run for changes to U.S. reserve law that would have it simpler for consumers to see automobile have have have use of of bulletins.


In Sep 2007, underneath vigour from NHTSA, Toyota had expelled a stop for 55,000 all-weather floormats on the Camry and the Camry-derived Lexus ES 350. That narrowly tailored stop saved Toyota over $100 million, the Washington-based staff after boasted in a display done open in the congressional hearings on the automaker"s reserve crisis.

By Sep 2009, when it filed the last refurbish with the government, Toyota had transposed less than 40 percent of the floormats. Most owners simply never responded to the stop letters.

Many recalls finish up with low reply rates, a arch censure by reserve advocates and industry management team alike. But in this case, NHTSA officials additionally disturbed the Toyota stop would not go far sufficient since consumers were not wakeful of the risk from floormats, a square of rubber dictated to keep car carpets tidy.

In a 2007 meeting, NHTSA officials had resolved that consumers were notice of "extremely dangerous safety" risks from "floormat interference" in Toyota vehicles, according to annals submitted to Congress. "Owners, retailers, and technicians do not join forces with floormats with this spin of risk," NHTSA officials had concluded.

Despite that red flag, U.S. reserve regulators did not lift an conflict when Toyota sent the notice to the U.S. dealers notice that all of the 2008 Toyota and Lexus vehicles were at risk of crashing unless floormats were scrupulously installed.

"At the time, NHTSA thought that Toyota was being active in reminding dealers of the significance of scold floormat installation," pronounced the stream NHTSA central vocalization on condition that he not be named.

The preference to issue those bulletins came in a rushed set of negotiations in between Toyota and NHTSA officials in Aug 2007, email annals expelled by congressional investigators show.

The point man in arguing the box for Toyota was Chris Santucci, a former NHTSA central right away in have use of by the automaker.

At the time, NHTSA officials were seeking in to what were afterwards about 35 complaints of increase in speed issues with the Lexus ES 350, annals show, but at initial the organisation did not show a high spin of concern.

In a inform to alternative Toyota management team on his revisit to NHTSA on Aug 22, 2007, Santucci referred to that U.S. regulators possibly unsuccessful to take the floormat issue severely or questioned possibly Toyota was you do so.

"I ran in to a lot of opposite investigators and (Office of Defect Investigation) staff, and when asked because I was there, when I told them for the ES 350 floormats, they possibly laughed or rolled their eyes in disbelief," Santucci wrote.

The annals show that NHTSA reserve investigators lifted alternative stairs that Toyota could cruise to urge car safety. Those enclosed adding the kind of stop overrule complement it is right away rushing in to have have have use of of opposite the choice or permitting drivers to spin off cars with push-button starters, such as the Prius, by regularly drumming on the symbol rather than holding them down for 3 seconds.

But Santucci pushed Toyota"s adored proceed of promulgation have have have use of of bulletins to dealers in dual apart conversations with reserve investigators who by afterwards conveyed the thought that "NHTSA is really serious," according to his email.

NHTSA was assumingly satisfied. Just over dual weeks after Toyota sent the initial floormat circular to dealers, the organisation sealed the hearing with customarily a singular open warning.

"Depending on car design, it is probable for unsecured floormats to meddle with accelerator or stop pedals in a far-reaching range of vehicles," the organisation pronounced in a Sep 26, 2007 consumer advisory.


Other Toyota bulletins sent to dealers in the past dual months have minute fixes that are not being treated with colour as recalls but crop up to tumble in the gray area that includes intensity reserve issues, according to a hearing by Reuters, reserve experts and the policies of opposition automakers.

Owners of 2000 to 2003 model-year Tundra trucks in warm-weather U.S. states are being told that they can take their trucks in for investigation to see if a behind square of the await has spin dangerously rusted.

In Nov last year, Toyota had removed Tundra pickups sole in cold-weather states where the risk of repairs from winter highway salt is higher. The lengthened repairs were called a "special have have have use of of campaign" rather than a recall.

Toyota warned in the notice to dealers that the await decay could "cause a pile-up but prior to warning." Spare tires could dump from the lorry during driving, it said. The misfortune case: "The fuel tank competence dump to the belligerent and be dragged or distant from the vehicle." Toyota"s closest competitors, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai, pronounced they would not magnify an existent stop with a have have have use of of bulletin.

Toyota launched a "limited have have have use of of campaign" in Feb to correct roughly 934,000 vehicles with a potentially inadequate oil hose. The repair, that does not equate opposite Toyota"s flourishing stop tally, was communicated initial to dealers.

The automaker reliable the correct discuss on Mar 1 after it was reported by Reuters and alternative media. The vehicles influenced by the correct enclosed the Camry, Avalon, RAV4, Lexus ES 350 and RX 350. "Toyota is now questioning how this condition competence affect alternative Toyota vehicles," the automaker pronounced in the articulate points for dealers.

A poke of the NHTSA censure database shows 4 cases where consumers reported the censure causing mist of oil whilst pushing and engine fume or fire. "I am endangered that something similar to this competence occur with inauspicious results," the owners of an RX 350 wrote to reserve regulators in Aug 2009. A RAV4 owners in California pronounced the small crossover held glow on the widespread in Feb 2009.

A Toyota automechanic told the motorist that it was a comparatively usual problem. "That done me livid," the consumer wrote NHTSA. "I am mad that it appears Toyota was well wakeful of this censure ... I am asking for a full investigation, which, hopefully, will lead to a recall."


Service bulletins are reviewed by NHTSA each month and a one-line outline is posted on the agency"s website. Consumers can sequence full copies for a fee. It can take weeks to routine them.

Critics contend that most bulletins are never entirely scrutinized.

"We await efforts to have have have have use of of bulletins accessible to the public," pronounced Clarence Ditlow, executive of the Center for Auto Safety and one of the alternative outward experts called to attest in the new Toyota hearings. "Now we need to get the supervision to contend that if manufacturers are going to fool around these kinds of games, we have to get tough."

Ami Gadhia, routine warn for Consumers Union, the non-profit publishing house of Consumer Reports, an successful guide whose endorsements helped set up Toyota, pronounced the organisation would additionally behind a hearing of avowal standards as square of an bid to remodel the system.

"It really bears hearing both by Congress and by NHTSA possibly the stop routine is operative as it should," Gadhia said.

None of the vital automakers are in preference of an renovate of have have have use of of circular system, observant the issue is most appropriate left to the Department of Transportation.

But there are signs that the investigation Toyota is confronting has altered the proceed the rest of the industry is coming the subject of recalls.

GM, heedful of removing held up in the reserve debate, scrapped plans this year to hurl out the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt forward of schedule. Delivering the Volt to consumers prior to to the central launch this tumble would have compulsory GM to stop the early models for program upgrades for the battery system, timid Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said.

Lutz pronounced he had primarily argued that GM should "do it sensitively and customarily go in there and correct them" -- by the homogeneous of a have have have use of of bulletin. But afterwards he was reminded of the reserve discuss after Toyota and concluded GM could not take the risk of being indicted of creation still fixes to a rarely touted vehicle.

"Some people are in really critical difficulty for you do customarily that," Lutz told Reuters.

(Additional stating by David Bailey in Detroit, John Crawley in Washington and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; modifying by Jim Impoco and Claudia Parsons)



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