Today Toyota Motor Corp. announced a suspension in sales of eight of its models linked to unintended acceleration. The company’s problems began in November 2009, when it recalled more than 4 million vehicles, blaming the problem on defective floor mats. However, subsequent investigations and continued vehicle crashes began to call that theory into question. Last week, Toyota announced a recall of nearly 3 million additional vehicles, saying there was evidence of problems with the accelerator pedal. The suspension announced today includes Toyota’s top-seller, the Camry, models since 2007, as well as the 2009-2010 model year RAV4, Corolla and Matrix, the 2008-2010 model year Sequoia, the 2007-2010 model year Tundra, the 2005-2010 model year Avalon and the 2010 model year Highlander.
On November 25, 2009, Toyota announced a “solution” for more than 4 million of its recalled cars and trucks that have the potential to accelerate suddenly and unintentionally: make the accelerator pedal shorter and re-design the floor mats. Until those safety repairs could be made, Toyota advised, owners of the recalled models should remove the floor mats.
On the day after Christmas, four people died in Southlake, Texas after the 2008 Toyota they were riding in sped out of control, plummeted through a fence, and landed upside down into a pond. Authorities at the scene discovered that the car’s owners had removed the floor mats and stored them in the trunk as they were advised to do in the recall, and investigators have since ruled out floor mats as the cause of the accident.
Then ABC News reporters heard of another Toyota owner whose recalled Avalon began racing and accelerating without interference of the floor mat. Kevin Haggerty, a resident of New Jersey, told ABC News that he started experiencing acceleration problems in his Avalon last year, but when he took it in for repairs, the Toyota dealership could find nothing wrong.
Then, just after Christmas, Haggerty’s car began accelerated unintentionally on a New Jersey interstate. After a moment of panic, Haggerty recalled a report by ABC that instructed drivers on what measures to take if they are caught in a Toyota that speeds out of control. He shifted the car to neutral, which caused the engine to rev violently.
Braking only made the car accelerate more, Haggerty told ABC.
By shifting back and forth between neutral and drive, Haggerty was able to drive his Avalon to the Toyota dealership with the engine revving and the brakes and tires smoking. The service manager was able to verify that this was happening to Haggerty’s car without interference of the floor mat.
“We now have that evidence right in front of Toyota. They’re witnessing it and they can’t walk away from it,” Sean Kane, a safety expert with Safety Research & Strategies, told ABC.
Unfortunately, walking away from Haggerty’s claims seems to be Toyota’s response. Instead of blaming the floor mat, Toyota said Haggerty’s incident was caused by a sticking gas pedal — a mechanical defect that led recently to another, separate Toyota recall. Haggerty maintains that the gas pedal never stuck.
Since Toyota announced its sudden acceleration recall, more than 60 new incidents of runaway Toyotas have been reported.
When Toyota announced its solution to the problem in November, it said that the gas pedals would be redesigned in all of the recalled vehicles and the mats replaced in some of them.
“In addition, as a separate measure independent of the vehicle-based remedy, Toyota will install a brake override system onto the involved Camry, Avalon, and Lexus ES 350, IS 350 and IS 250 models as an extra measure of confidence,” Toyota said in a statement. ”
“This system cuts engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedals,” Toyota said.
This “extra measure of confidence,” which was praised by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, could seem superfluous in light of Toyota’s unwavering stance that floor mats are to blame. And that’s how it seems Toyota is trying to frame the issue – as “going the extra mile” for its customers when a brake override system should be the fix in all of the vehicles, not just the luxury models.