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Old 01-30-2010, 04:39 PM   #1
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Default Toyota Shows How Giants Stumble

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Toyota Shows How Giants Stumble

By Rick Newman , On Friday January 29, 2010, 2:18 pm EST

At General Motors, they used to call their surging competitor "Mr. T," as if intimidated by a muscular rival who seemed able to seize market share at will. But Toyota suddenly looks pretty meek, thanks to a mystifying safety problem that has led to a huge recall, an unprecedented production shutdown, and an ugly dent in a once sterling reputation.

This corporate nightmare has mushroomed since last fall, when Toyota recalled about 4 million vehicles because of floor mats with a propensity to slip down into the driver's side foot well, potentially interfering with the pedals and causing sudden acceleration. Now Toyota has recalled an additional 2.3 million vehicles for a problem that sounds similar, but the company says it's different: faulty gas pedals that can stick if they become worn, causing--once again--sudden acceleration.

Recalls aren't unusual. Here's what normally happens: The owner gets notified of the recall and brings the car to a dealer, where the problem is fixed in a day or two with no charge to the customer. But this recall is more confusing and far more draconian than usual. For one thing, Toyota announced the recall before there was a fix in place, so dealers didn't even know what to do if you brought them the car. Toyota implies that most of the recalled vehicles can still be driven safely, but it also offers these instructions for people who feel their car might have a sticky gas pedal: "The vehicle should be driven to the nearest safe location, the engine shut off, and a Toyota dealer contacted for assistance." Beyond that, Toyota has also issued some Dukes of Hazzard style maneuvers drivers should use if they're cruising along and the pedal does, in fact, stick, such as shifting into neutral or turning off the ignition (but don't take the key out!). Do they teach that in driver's ed?

If you're a concerned parent with a suspect Toyota, you could easily imagine that the gas pedal seems a little stickier than usual. And do what? Risk your kids' lives by driving them around in a death trap? Pull off on the side of the highway and call a taxi? Garage the car and rent something safe--at $300 per week--until Toyota figures out what's going on? Stressing out your customers like that isn't exactly the way to win repeat business.

The sales and production stoppage suggests an even bigger problem, with lots of legal liability. Toyota has stopped selling or building eight models, including the Camry, Corolla, and RAV 4, which represent more than 50 percent of its sales. That will cost Toyota millions, maybe billions, of dollars. It already ranks near the top in the annals of corporate meltdowns, and it's not necessarily over. GM, meanwhile, is poaching Toyota customers with special financing and other incentives, along with cars that go the speed you want them to.

How did this happen? Toyota itself may not even know yet, and it could take months or years for the full story to develop. But Toyota's dramatic comedown isn't as sudden as it might seem. Some industry-watchers feel the saga has been building for years and may even have been inevitable.

In his 2009 book, How the Mighty Fall, business guru Jim Collins outlined five stages of decline that many big companies go through. Mostly he wrote about companies that lose their edge gradually, even imperceptibly, until thousands of tiny termite holes bring down the house. Toyota might qualify as an accelerated version of such a collapse.

Toyota has grown steadily into the world's biggest automaker, earning customer loyalty for the reliability and longevity of its vehicles. But problems have been slowly building. The T100 pickup sold in the 1990s failed to hit Toyota's usual mark for quality, with some critics complaining that it was an underpowered make-do truck that paled next to American counterparts. Beginning around 1999, thousands of Toyota owners complained about mysterious "sludge" buildup that wrecked their engines, prompting criticism that Toyota was growing too fast and skimping on quality; Toyota resisted the claims but settled a class action lawsuit brought by owners in 2007. Toyota owners have also complained about faulty head lamps on the Prius hybrid, and more than 100,000 Tundra pickups were recalled in 2009 for problems with rusting frames. On the business side, Toyota badly miscalculated when it built a new pickup plant in Texas, with sales far below projections.

Consumers have noticed. Surveys by CNW Marketing Research in Brandon, Ore., show that from 1997 to 2007, Toyota consistently ranked at the top for nonluxury car makers, neck and neck with Honda. For 10 straight years, consumers rated Toyota 9.1 or higher, on average, out of 10. In 2008, that rating slipped below 9 for the first time, and in the latest survey--which took place before the gas-pedal recall--respondents gave Toyota an 8.5 rating. That's lower than the ratings for Honda, Buick, Mazda, Volkswagen, Ford, and even Saturn.

Toyota's recent history lines up fairly well with Collins's taxonomy of decline. His first stage is "hubris born of success," which certainly could apply to Toyota. For years, Toyota was a model of efficient manufacturing, mimicked even by firms in different industries. That may have convinced the firm's leaders they could grow rapidly and maintain quality at any size. Next in the evolution of decline comes "undisciplined pursuit of more." Toyota definitely had grand ambitions--to become the world's biggest automaker--but it's not clear yet if the firm was undisciplined or simply took risks that went against it. Collins's third stage is "denial of risk and peril," which many critics certainly saw in Toyota's rigid refutation of consumer complaints. Stage four is "grasping for salvation," which is what Toyota seems to be doing now.

It's a safe bet, however, that Toyota will escape Collins's fifth stage: "capitulation to irrelevance or death." Despite its woes, Toyota remains a strong brand and a powerful company, and falling on its sword today may be the best path toward a corporate rebound. Surveys by BrandIndex, a market research firm, show that Toyota's "buzz" score--reflecting consumers' immediate perception of the brand--have dipped to historic lows. But positive impressions of Toyota still outweigh negative ones, which means customers are likely to return if the company solves its problems once and for all--and makes amends. "Consumers are pretty forgiving of blue-chip brands," says Ted Marzilli of BrandIndex. "Prospects are still quite good for Toyota, provided the issue is resolved quickly, there is clear communication to consumers, and there are no more issues in the near future." And humility replaces hubris.
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Old 01-31-2010, 10:16 AM   #2
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WSJ had a good article a few days ago about how Toyota cut corners in places to try to rapidly expand sales. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...2954:b30082730

Quote:
Beyond that, Toyota has also issued some Dukes of Hazzard style maneuvers drivers should use if they're cruising along and the pedal does, in fact, stick, such as shifting into neutral or turning off the ignition (but don't take the key out!).
No way I would drive a car that might have this problem. IMO they should all be towed to the dealer. Seems to me Toyota is setting itself up for some serious lawsuits by telling people its OK to keep driving these cars. There have already been a bunch of crashes and deaths after all.
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Old 01-31-2010, 10:57 AM   #3
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what I think needs to be taken into account is this problem really does appear to be much more of an engineering issue than a supplier issue. Note that the recalled vehicles are not all DBW throttles. I think the new president is taking this seriously. The recall, IMHO was premature and, IMHO, has confused and scared many people who likely have nothing to worry about. The flip side is if they would've sat on their hands until they figured out a solution, people may not have been as inclined to bring their vehicles in for the fix. There are a lot of moving parts on this one (no pun intended) and I hope that ToMoCo gets back to doing business the Toyota way.
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Old 01-31-2010, 12:23 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by Mike Wevrick View Post
No way I would drive a car that might have this problem.
I dislike driving cars without a manual transmission too.
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IMO they should all be towed to the dealer. Seems to me Toyota is setting itself up for some serious lawsuits by telling people its OK to keep driving these cars. There have already been a bunch of crashes and deaths after all.
There have only been a handful of deaths. Death from unintended acceleration in your corolla is up there with getting hit by lightning. You've got to remember just how many Toyotas are on the roads.

Now, I now there have been hundreds of crashes attributed to it.. but how many are real? You rear-end someone in your Toyota while trying to txt, but you've seen the headlines, so when the cop comes to ask you what happened you say, "I was trying to stop and the car just kept going all by itself." Oops.. another statistic because you didn't want to be responsible for your own mistakes.


.. and I've never seen the episodes where Luke and Bo evaded the Hazzard LEOs by shifting into neutral or turning the ignition off. Unless Toyota also suggested people jump a pile of hay bales and drive sideways down a dirt road, Mr. Newman is making a Factory Backed racing team out of Cooter's garage.
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Old 01-31-2010, 12:47 PM   #5
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Now, I now there have been hundreds of crashes attributed to it.. but how many are real? You rear-end someone in your Toyota while trying to txt, but you've seen the headlines, so when the cop comes to ask you what happened you say, "I was trying to stop and the car just kept going all by itself." Oops.. another statistic because you didn't want to be responsible for your own mistakes.

I've wondered the same thing. How many people dirivng toyotas can now blame their accidents on this situation. Does Toyota have a way to check into a "log" to see if it indeed happened?

If not, than it's true, how can we know which out of control acceleration accidents were real or not.
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Old 01-31-2010, 01:08 PM   #6
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I've wondered the same thing. How many people dirivng toyotas can now blame their accidents on this situation. Does Toyota have a way to check into a "log" to see if it indeed happened?

If not, than it's true, how can we know which out of control acceleration accidents were real or not.
It is more complex than even that.

If their log says the accelerator was floored and the brake was floored does that mean the accelerator stuck, or that the user pushed both pedals in?

I don't think they will be able to tell certain crashes from legitimate ones, but I also think that there is evidence of a real problem or they would not be taking these steps. The theory I have seen is that the resistor used with the accelerator may wear in the lower part where people usually push the gas so that it becomes less analog seeming and more digital. (in otherwords full on, or idle with little in between).
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Old 01-31-2010, 02:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by Beaverboy View Post
Death from unintended acceleration in your corolla is up there with getting hit by lightning.
Absolutely true, but unfortunately that's not how people mentally deal with risks. We all accept dying in a "regular" car accident as a background noise even though ~100 Americans die that way EVERYDAY. Rather, we choose to get scared ****-less about more exotic but orders of magnitude less dangerous things like air travel, terrorism, random street violence, H1N1, tornado, and a malfunctioning Toyota.

The irrationality of our psychological response to threats is really very interesting. (and I'm certainly guilty of it every day) On the one hand, it enables us to live our daily lives without being paralyzed by constant and present dangers, no matter how serious they may be. But on the flip side, in this age of mass media and internet, things get very quickly ridiculous.
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Old 01-31-2010, 02:43 PM   #8
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I thought this entire gas pedal sticking thing was a bunch of crap until recently. Let me tell you that the throttle sticking issue IS 100% REAL. For almost two years I daily drove a Prius which seemed to be a good reliable car until it scared the crap out of me. One day the throttle seemingly went to 100% all by its self (the carpet was NOT holding it down) while driving down a busy street near a shopping center. It took me around five seconds to figure out that if I hit the parking brake the computer would put the CVT into neutral. Even though the car is a 100ish WHP Prius, WOT for five totally out of control seconds on a busy street is horrifying.

I pulled over, shut the car off and powered it back on (remember, its a Prius). I drove the car for a few more months and traded it for a Ford Escape Hybrid which I love. The Escape is so nice that its actually changed my opinion of American cars.
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Old 01-31-2010, 05:04 PM   #9
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^^I think this proves my point. I'll bet most of the people this has happened to have not officially reported it to anyone.
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Old 01-31-2010, 05:37 PM   #10
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^^I think this proves my point. I'll bet most of the people this has happened to have not officially reported it to anyone.
Now apply that logic to every car on the road. There could be self-accelerating Subarus and we just haven't heard about it yet.

Go-go gadget tin foil hat!

I'm not saying there's anything mythical about the Toyota issue.. I'm just saying that by the numbers, and given the presence of mind that you've rehearsed in your head what to do should the car decide to drive to the moon by itself, the danger of driving one of these Toyotas is fairly slim.

You could at least modify the paranoia and only avoid driving Toyotas with the culprit pedal.

Quote:
Originally Posted by pockygt@Jalopnik


I work at a Toyota dealer and have made this handy reference for which pedals are affected. If it says Denso on the side, you're fine. If it says CTS, it's affected by the recall. This is important because not ALL American-made Toyotas are affected because some have Denso pedal assemblies .
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The Escape is so nice that its actually changed my opinion of American cars.
OT: Doesn't hurt that it's basically built on a Mazda 626 chassis.
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Old 01-31-2010, 06:37 PM   #11
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Since those are electric assemblies how does the pedal get stuck in the down position? Bad spring or plastic with lots of burs on the inside?

Edit: TTAC already looked at two samples, though without seeing an 'affected' pedal assembly taken apart it doesn't really help/.

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Old 01-31-2010, 07:16 PM   #12
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Since those are electric assemblies how does the pedal get stuck in the down position? Bad spring or plastic with lots of burs on the inside?
Do we actually know that the pedal is sticking down? It could just be the angle sensor screwing up.
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Old 01-31-2010, 07:40 PM   #13
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I assume the pedal assembly has some sort of sensor that relates pedal position to throttle opening. If the sensor is faulty/shorted it sends incorrect signal to throttle body, hence, unconrollable acceleration. I read somewhere that condensation inside the asssembly was to be blamed for this effect.
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Old 01-31-2010, 07:52 PM   #14
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Do we actually know that the pedal is sticking down? It could just be the angle sensor screwing up.
That's the claim, I posted this already so I didn't want to spam it again but the article is here.

http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/show...1&postcount=69

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I assume the pedal assembly has some sort of sensor that relates pedal position to throttle opening. If the sensor is faulty/shorted it sends incorrect signal to throttle body, hence, unconrollable acceleration. I read somewhere that condensation inside the asssembly was to be blamed for this effect.
They say it has to do with corrosion and the return spring. It's in the article I linked.

To those blaming CTS for the problem, that isn't a valid argument. They make the pedal EXACTLY as Toyota requested.
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Old 01-31-2010, 07:58 PM   #15
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once they get this issue fixed, i bet everyone will just forgive them since they have such a big reputation.
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Old 01-31-2010, 08:05 PM   #16
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mispost sorry.
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Old 01-31-2010, 08:07 PM   #17
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I guess of the complaints in which someone actually complained of the pedal sticking and an injury occurred, only one of those was a vehicle covered in this recall...
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Old 02-01-2010, 06:41 AM   #18
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Originally Posted by Len View Post
Absolutely true, but unfortunately that's not how people mentally deal with risks. We all accept dying in a "regular" car accident as a background noise even though ~100 Americans die that way EVERYDAY. Rather, we choose to get scared ****-less about more exotic but orders of magnitude less dangerous things like air travel, terrorism, random street violence, H1N1, tornado, and a malfunctioning Toyota.

The irrationality of our psychological response to threats is really very interesting. (and I'm certainly guilty of it every day) On the one hand, it enables us to live our daily lives without being paralyzed by constant and present dangers, no matter how serious they may be. But on the flip side, in this age of mass media and internet, things get very quickly ridiculous.
Studies show it is the perceived control. You think that you control your safety in a car. The other stuff is out of your control so it has more "dread" associated with it.
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Old 02-01-2010, 11:41 AM   #19
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^^very true

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once they get this issue fixed, i bet everyone will just forgive them since they have such a big reputation.
I dunno; a similar issue (which may not even have been a real problem) ruined Audi's reputation for years.
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Old 02-01-2010, 02:52 PM   #20
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That's the claim, I posted this already so I didn't want to spam it again but the article is here.

http://forums.nasioc.com/forums/show...1&postcount=69



They say it has to do with corrosion and the return spring. It's in the article I linked.

To those blaming CTS for the problem, that isn't a valid argument. They make the pedal EXACTLY as Toyota requested.
I believe the Denso assemblies have also been recalled.
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Old 02-01-2010, 03:22 PM   #21
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I dunno; a similar issue (which may not even have been a real problem) ruined Audi's reputation for years.
Audi's reputation wasn't all that amazing to begin with. I mean, they had been growing a following, but they were still a niche player in the US. They weren't exactly the #1 carmaker.
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Old 02-01-2010, 03:35 PM   #22
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Audi's reputation wasn't all that amazing to begin with. I mean, they had been growing a following, but they were still a niche player in the US. They weren't exactly the #1 carmaker.
Audi's issue was back in the 80's I think where you could accidentally shift the car (auto) without applying the brakes. Led to an industry change to require brake application to put the car in/out of park.
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Old 02-02-2010, 02:41 AM   #23
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At least Toyota is recalling this and fixing it, even at the expense of stopping production. Ford and GM had exploding gas tanks on their vehicles (Ford Pinto, and '79-'86 Chevy trucks), and went right on producing them.
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Old 02-02-2010, 06:58 AM   #24
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At least Toyota is recalling this and fixing it, even at the expense of stopping production. Ford and GM had exploding gas tanks on their vehicles (Ford Pinto, and '79-'86 Chevy trucks), and went right on producing them.
Did you post this exact thing in the toyota recall thread? It was disproved there, so you could quote that as well if you want.
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Old 02-02-2010, 08:00 AM   #25
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At least Toyota is recalling this and fixing it, even at the expense of stopping production.
It was a federally mandated stop-sale.
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