UPDATED March 26, 2010, 11 a.m.
Hopefully, the timeline we developed will give our readers some real insight into how both Toyota and NHTSA have been operating over the past several years.
• In September, NHTSA orders its first recall of Toyota cars because of “speed control” problems related to a faulty cruise control system in models as far back as 1982. A second investigation into sudden-acceleration dangers with Toyota vehicles takes place that same year.
• Toyota recalls the popular Lexus RX for problems with an electronic control unit that causes the headlights and taillights to turn on and off without warning.
• Toyota discontinues using mechanical linkage in their throttle systems in favor of an electronic throttle control system.
• Toyota makes 6.78 million vehicles and overtakes Ford Motor Co. in annual sales to become the world No.2 behind General Motors.
• In February, NHTSA conducts the first of many defect investigations regarding speed control problems. The first two involve the Camry and Solara models.
• In April, Toyota internally deals with an “unwanted acceleration” incident during the production testing of the Sienna model. Toyota blamed a faulty trim panel clip, trapping the pedal assembly. Toyota calls this an “isolated incident”. Toyota does not report to NHTSA until 5 years later during a blanket information request by the agency.
• In July, NHTSA opens first probe of sudden-acceleration complaints in Lexus sedans at owner’s request.
• In September, the Lexus probe is closed claiming no defect was found.
• In March, after another customer petition, NHTSA opens a wider probe into Lexus Sedans. NHTSA also informs Toyota that the agency is opening an investigation into unwanted acceleration and vehicle surge complaints in 2002-2003 Camry and Solaris models. Toyota’s VP for regulatory affairs, Christopher Tinto, and another of his employees Christopher Santucci, “work closely” with NHTSA and manage to narrow the investigation to 11 incidents involving 5 crashes. Both Mr. Tinto and Mr. Santucci are former NHTSA employees.
• In July, NHTSA closes its investigations again, claiming no defects were found. NHTSA turns down two more requests from owners for new looks at the problem. NHTSA cites lack of resources as the reason for that decision.
• CTS, a manufacturer, begins to make pedal assemblies for Toyota.
• In August, NHTSA conducts an evaluation of the Camry after reports of “inappropriate and uncontrollable vehicle accelerations.”
• In November, Toyota’s Tinto writes NHTSA that a dealership-led review of 59 owner complaints about their Toyota vehicles found that “no evidence of a system or component failure was found and the vehicles operated as designed.”
• By January, NHTSA had opened a second investigation and had received questionnaires sent to Camry owners. Hundreds are returned from owners with reports of problems of acceleration and braking. NHTSA says the claims are of “ambiguous significance” and closes the investigation. Again, a strange turn of events.
• Toyota group global sales of 8.808 million vehicles exceed GM’s by 128,000, making it the world’s biggest automaker.
• In August, NHTSA receives more complaints about the accelerator issues with the Camry models that covers model years from 2002-2006.
• In September, NHTSA opens a third investigation. Another Camry owner petitions the administration to investigate multiple “engine surging” incidents he experienced.
• Toyota’s Tinto writes NHTSA and says that Toyota found no abnormality in the throttle controller and blames water damage from driving in heavy rain as the reason for any problems that might exist.
• NHTSA fails to identify the problem and closes the investigation citing “the need to best allocate limited administration resources” as the reason for the closure. Again – even if true – very strange.
• In March, NHTSA launches probe into floor mats in Lexus models. Toyota says “issue is not a safety concern.”
• On July 26, for the first time, NHTSA verifies fatal crash link to floor mats. Troy Edwin Johnson is killed when a Camry accelerating out of control hits his car at 120 mph. The driver of the Camry had been unable to slow the vehicle for 23 miles prior to the accident. Toyota eventually settles with the family for an undisclosed amount.
• In August, NHTSA upgrades its investigation to an “engineering analysis.” This means the agency will do vehicle testing instead of just reviewing complaints or single vehicles and crunching questionnaire numbers as done in the past.
• State Farm Insurance notifies NHTSA of accident data related to 2005-2007 Toyota’s and an uptick in numerous complaints of “unwanted acceleration.” The insurer did the right thing and you would think NHTSA would have to pay attention to this warning.
• In September, under pressure from NHTSA, Toyota recalls 55,000 Camry and Lexus models because of suspected floor mats that interfere with the accelerator pedal.
• Documents now obtained from Toyota show that the carmaker noted that it had saved $100 million by conducting a limited recall as opposed to a full recall. The company said that was a “win.”
• In January, NHTSA, again, at a customer’s request, launches probe of sudden acceleration in Tacoma pickups. The complaints involve 478 incidents where 2004-2008 model year Tacoma engines allegedly sped up even when the accelerator pedal wasn’t pushed. Toyota’s Tinto told NHTSA that the automaker couldn’t find enough evidence to support allegations and an investigation wasn’t warranted.
• In August, after an eight month review, NHTSA closes the Tacoma investigation, claiming to find no defect despite hundreds of complaints. This is the eighth investigation of Toyota vehicles since 2003. Over 2600 complaints of Toyotas and “run away cars” have been reported. 271 of these complaints were rejected by NHTSA without even asking Toyota for data. Again, most strange!
• In April, NHTSA receives another petition, this one to investigate throttle-control problems unrelated to floor-mat issues in the Lexus ES vehicles.
• In August, the fatal crash of a Lexus ES350 in California kills four people. NHTSA quickly links this incident to floor mats.
• In September, NHTSA tells Toyota it expects wider recall of mats by the end of the month.
• In October, Toyota issues floor mat warning but has to be pushed by NHTSA to issue recall.
• In October, Toyota recalls 3.8 million vehicles related to the floor mat issue.
• In November, Toyota expands the floor mat recall by over a million vehicles.
• In December, NHTSA opens investigations on whether the electronic control modules in some Corolla and Matrix models causes them to stall without warning. The agency also opens an investigation into the 2003 Sequoia SUV model for problems with the computerized vehicle stability control system.
• In December, NHTSA officials fly to Tokyo to meet with Toyota executives, asking for quicker response to safety concerns.
• NHTSA investigations of Toyota and allegations of unintended acceleration rise to 13 in a 25 year period resulting directly in four recalls.
• On January 16, Toyota tells NHTSA it may have “an issue” with sticking accelerator pedals.
• On January 19, NHTSA meets with Toyota officials in Washington, telling the automaker it must conduct a recall.
• On January 21, Toyota issues recall for 2.3 million vehicles for sticking accelerator pedal.
• On January 26, Toyota halts production and stops selling eight models under pressure from NHTSA.
• On January 27, Toyota expands the pedal recall by 1.1 million vehicles.
• On February 3, Kelley Blue Book is reported as devaluing Toyota models by as much as 5%. Edmunds (an auto research firm) states the average devaluation between 4% and 8% on Toyota vehicles. Both companies state that this devaluation could continue.
• On February 5, Toyota admits problems with brake software in 2010 Prius Hybrids.
• On February 8, Toyota recalls 2010 Prius, 2010 Lexus HS 250h, 2010 Camry Hybrids, and the Sai (sold only in Japan) due to faulty brake systems. This recall affects 437,000 vehicles worldwide.
• On February 9, Toyota announces that Exponent Consulting (formerly Failure Analysis Associates Inc.) had completed a 56 page report and sent to Congress a report that a test of Toyota’s electronic throttle system behaved as intended. Exponent was “unable to induce…unintended acceleration or behavior that might be a precursor to such an event.”
• Exponent’s work is highly criticized by many independent experts as not being neutral. Exponent’s executive chairman Mike Gaulke was quoted as saying 65% of the company’s $228 million dollars in revenue is derived from research related to materials created for litigation in defense of companies. A noted environmental consultant Cindy Sage is quoted in the LA Times as saying “The first thing you know is that when Exponent is brought in to help a company, that company is in big trouble.”
• Exponent’s actual testing in the report is criticized as not complying with the type of testing necessary to replicate the methods that automotive engineers say are needed to ensure that electromagnetic interference does not cause failure of the hardware or software of engine controls.
• If any of our readers – or the consuming public in the U.S. – believe that Exponents is an “independent investigator,” they are sadly mistaken. This company has been paid hundreds of millions to defend design defects for the automobile industry over the years.
• On February 12, Toyota recalls 2010 Tacoma due to a dangerous drive shaft condition.
• The Wall Street Journal publishes an article that discusses Toyota’s “black box” event recorder and its use for investigating Toyota’s safety problems. According to the NHTSA and Toyota, only one “reader” exists in the U.S. and is located at Toyota’s headquarters in California.
• Toyota claims that the unit is still experimental and can give false readings.
• In comparison, all U.S. automakers have made their event recorders easily readable by third party companies that make diagnostic equipment.
• On February 16, the Department of Transportation demands that Toyota turn over documents related to its massive recalls to see how long the automaker knew of safety defects before taking action. The company is given between 30 and 60 days to respond or face fines. Toyota’s recalled vehicles tops 9 million units.
• On February 16, Toyota begins to “look into” steering problems with its Corolla models.
• On February 18, it was learned that NHTSA had excluded eight early reports of deaths linked to the sudden acceleration problem. That may well bring the total deaths to 42.
• On February 23, the congressional hearings started and I would encourage all of our readers to find out what all the Toyota bosses had to say at the hearings. Some of what they said there will shock you.
• On March 11, Toyota officials were forced to turn over a memo produced by its own factory workers in 2006, which raised their fears about safety issues in the manufacturing process. The memo is a “smoking gun” that proves management was made aware of a looming disaster due to an emphasis on profits over production standards.
• On March 24, new evidence emerged revealing that both Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration knew that reported sudden acceleration incidents were linked to a glitch in the vehicles’ electronic system. In August 2002, Toyota Motor Corp. issued a Technical Service Bulletin warning every dealership in the country that Camrys were reportedly surging out of control and that recommended adjustments to the electronic controls could fix the problem. Toyota also sent the bulletin to NHTSA, which issued an internal memo acknowledging Toyota unintended acceleration (UA) in 2002 and 2003 Camrys. The document was never made public until a group of attorneys submitted a copy of it to CNN.
• On April 8, an internal e-mail was uncovered, in which from Irv Miller to a Japanese colleague, dated Jan. 16 of this year. At the time, Miller was Group Vice President, Environmental and Public Affairs, one of the company’s top spokespeople. In the email, Miller says, “I hate to break this to you but WE HAVE A tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals of a certain manufacturer on certain models.” (These words were capitalized in the email.) He goes on to say, “We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over” and says, “we need to come clean.”
• On April 9, the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multi-District Litigation (MDL) announced it has selected the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to hear litigation surrounding Toyota sudden unintended acceleration (SUA). Lawsuits include both individual personal injury claims and consumer class actions filed on behalf of Toyota owners who claim the value of their vehicles has been negatively affected by Toyota‘s SUA problems.
Now more and more lawsuits are being filed by families who have lost loved ones because of the sudden, unintended acceleration problems at Toyota. There will be many more suits filed in the coming weeks. Our firm has already filed suits and our lawyers in the Product Liability Section are currently investigating a number of potential claims. If you need more information, contact Cole Portis, Graham Esdale, Greg Allen or Dana Taunton in our firm