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|Toyota to Recall 3.8-million Toyota and Lexus Vehicles|
|Written by Rich Truesdell|
|Wednesday, 30 September 2009 03:58|
With a reputation for bulletproof quality, Toyota faces one of its biggest crises in history, unintended acceleration possibly caused by a poorly chosen floor mat that jammed the accelerator of a Lexus ES350, killing a California state trooper and his family.
Toyota, which just last year finally passed long-time rival GM as the world's biggest vehicle manufacturer, was hit yesterday with a huge public relations nightmare when yesterday it announced that it was recalling 3.8-million Toyota and Lexus vehicles. This is in the aftermath of a fiery crash on August 28 that left a San Diego state trooper and his family dead, possibly caused by an unsecured all-weather floor mat that jammed the accelerator pedal on their 2009 Lexus ES350, a car provided by a dealer while the state trooper's car was in for service. (The event was captured in a frightening 911 call.) While problems with Toyotas and Lexus models concerning "unintended acceleration" were being investigated prior to this crash, the urgency of the recall was underscored by the U.S. Transportation Secretary Roy LaHood who was quoted as saying, "This is an urgent matter. For everyone's sake, we strongly urge owners of these vehicles to remove mats or other obstacles that could lead to unintended acceleration."
If you own one of these models you are urged to remove the driver's side floor mat immediately. This problem is most readily associated with rubber, all-weather floor mats sold as accessories rather than the variety of color-keyed, carpeted floor mats. In the case of the San Diego Lexus ES350 crash, it has been reported that the wrong application floor mat was installed in the car. It was longer than the properly specified floor mat would have been, possibly contributing to the fatal accident that claimed the lives of Mark Saylor, 45, his wife Cleofe, 45, their daughter Mahala, 13, and brother-in-law Chris Lastrella who made the fateful 911 call from the back seat of the Lexus.
While this problem has come to the forefront because of the highly publicized San Diego crash, and in fairness to Toyota, it alone is certainly not alone in facing this dilemma. Just two weeks ago, when renting a Pontiac Solstice equipped with non-OEM floor mats, I experienced the same issued when the thin vinyl mat jammed into the accelerator pedal causing the car to accelerate. I quickly grabbed the mat between my legs and got the linkage free before anything really bad happened. Drivers of all cars should be alert to this phenomenon and be prepared to take action if faced by a car seemingly out of control. One way to do this is to simply turn off the car--something one might not immediately think of when in a panic situation, which also involves getting the transmission selector in neutral or park--but some cars, with keyless ignition, may require as many as three seconds pushing and holding in the "key," to get the ignition turned off. Needless to say when I returned the car to Avis I strongly suggested that the driver's side floor mat be removed.
But Toyota is going to come under increasing scrutiny over this issue and other instances of "unintended acceleration" concerning cars equipped with speed control. One Toyota Avalon owner, RAAPTOR, commenting on the crash on forbes.com, had this to say, "As an Avalon owner, a new one every five years since they came out, my 2005 is by far the most dangerous. The accelerator/brake combination of shape, location and action is DANGEROUS and the dealers just shake there head and say it can't be fixed. The problem is, if you have your foot slightly to the right on the brake pedal it comes in contact with the brake pedal. You cannot "feel" this. As you press harder to brake harder you are also pushing hard on the accelerator pedal. I personally have smacked into two parking posts before; I can react to stop the vehicle in a parking lot. It all happens so fast before you realize what's going on it's over. PANIC is the first thing that happens, staying calm doesn't seem to be an option at that time. I can imagine the driver saying the brakes don't work pushing as hard as he can doing 120 mph, it could happen to someone not familiar with the car doing this. I hope they take notice now, recalling the floor mats are not going to help!"
While no one seems to be drawing the parallel yet to the claims of unintended acceleration that plagued Audi back in the eighties, which almost drove them from the U.S. market and took a decade to overcome, to perceptions of Toyota and Lexus quality are bound to be impacted by this recall. This is not a seat belt bolt that isn't properly torqued; this is an event that can place drivers and passengers at serious risk of injury or even death if you don't have a plan in place if it happens to you--no matter what kind of car you drive--and is not addressed immediately. It also brings to mind the Ford Explorer/Firestone tire fiasco that tarnished forever the Explorer "brand" that was once the gold standard of mid-sized SUVs.
Industry pundits have jumped all over Toyota's recent missteps. Earlier today, on a commentary on his web site autoextremist.com, Peter M. De Lorenzo, author of the book The United States of Toyota, had this to say, "But there is a pronounced difference now that wasn't there before. Toyota isn't the invincible, infallible player that it once was. Everything Toyota management touches doesn't necessarily turn to gold, like the old days. As a matter of fact Toyota has become so frighteningly ordinary that it's threatening to become--heaven forbid--just another car company, a dreaded fate previously reserved for only the most mundane and mediocre car companies that exist in the world."
How Toyota faces this crisis will say a lot about the company moving forward. Will it step forward and fully accept responsibility like Tylenol did during the 1982 tampering crisis or will it stumble along, like Audi and Ford? Time will tell.