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Toyota Safety Issues
February 23, 2010 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Toyota executives are currently testifying before Congress about the safety issues that have led to the recall of millions of vehicles. They insist that "We are confident that no problems exist with the electronic throttle control system in our vehicles." Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) says "I would not consider... of value" their report in support of this claim.
posted by Joe Beese (142 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
Damn, it's crazy to see a company completely destroy itself so quickly. This is going to ruin them.
posted by toekneebullard at 9:07 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I find it difficult to believe that Toyota would be covering up something like this. They have a very good reputation.

On the other hand, the US government has a vested interested in the economic health of GM, so...
posted by empath at 9:07 AM on February 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


I find it difficult to believe that Toyota would be covering up something like this. They have a very good reputation.

On the other hand, the US government has a vested interested in the economic health of GM, so...


And on the gripping hand, Woz says software.
posted by DU at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Damn, it's crazy to see a company completely destroy itself so quickly. This is going to ruin them.

Do you think so? After the Pinto and Explorer disasters, Ford still seems to sell cars.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2010


This isn't going to ruin Toyota -- there are recalls all the time with cars. This uppity foreign company just had to be taken down a peg or two, since they gained too much market share over Detroit.
posted by kaseijin at 9:13 AM on February 23, 2010 [15 favorites]


Saw a report on the local news last night about a college professor who's managed to create a fairly believable experiment which involves shorting out a portion of the engine management system, which creates the "throttle-to-the-floor" runaway condition, and doesn't even throw an error code in the ECU. Toyota denies there's any way that could happen.

This doesn't look good for them.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2010


People think of Toyota as just a car company but they are hugely diversified. For example, I am typing this post on a Toyota keyboard and I have never had a single probleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee






Too soon?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:15 AM on February 23, 2010 [9 favorites]


Blazecock Pileon: "After the Pinto and Explorer disasters, Ford still seems to sell cars."

As will Toyota, no doubt. However, to the best of my recollection, Ford wasn't squandering a built-over-decades reputation for quality.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:17 AM on February 23, 2010


At least someone in Toyota marketing had enough foresight to pull the "moving forward" campaign ASAP.
posted by wcfields at 9:18 AM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


This isn't going to ruin Toyota -- there are recalls all the time with cars. This uppity foreign company just had to be taken down a peg or two, since they gained too much market share over Detroit.

LOL Oh please. The government doesn't need to create any sensationalism when there are 911 recordings of stuck gas pedal crashes, for crying out loud.

I always wondered what it would take for the "I will never buy another American vehicle again" crowd to check themselves. But I guess Toyota apologetics are in full effect.
posted by fusinski at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm thinking the next Toyotathon will have bargains galore!
posted by birdherder at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2010


x

posted by acro at 9:21 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


WHY IS BIG GOVERNMENT INTERFERING IN BIG BUSINESS' PLAN TO KILL AMERICANS??? OR AT LEAST INCONVENIENCE OUR WEEKEND PLANS??
posted by spicynuts at 9:22 AM on February 23, 2010


I really hope this doesn't sink Toyota.. my parents at one point had a red '96 Land Cruiser, a green '04 Tundra and my sister had a '99 4Runner. They were awesome trucks and I always felt like a badass driving them around.
posted by pwally at 9:23 AM on February 23, 2010


I find it difficult to believe that Toyota would be covering up something like this. They have a very good reputation.

On the other hand, the US government has a vested interested in the economic health of GM, so...


What makes you think Toyota is any better than any other company? It's out to seek profits, and these revelations are severely hurting their hurting their profits, ergo: a cover-up seems at least possible.

Also, you get bonus points for a) implying a conspiracy and b) dismissing two entities merely for being from the USA.
posted by elwoodwiles at 9:23 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I don't see this destroying the company. The current management tree, maybe, but not the company itself.

I'd expect that everyone involved with denying there is a problem with be visibly fired, and then there will be a giant expensive ad campaign focused on how their new re-vamped testing procedures will set the new standard in safety evaluation or something.

Toyota has a lot of good will behind it, and people are willing to forgive a lot as long as the problem is perceived to have been corrected.
posted by quin at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2010


ricochet biscuit: "... I am typing this post on a Toyota keyboard and I have never had a single probleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee


Too soon?
"

Well, you are hurting Toyoda-san's feelings.

All Toyota vehicles bear my name. When cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2010


I still maintain that the entire thing was the result of a carefully engineered personnel plant at CTS by the American car companies. OK, not really, but I do think that Toyota is taking an inordinate amount of crap over this. Obviously they deserve a lot of it, and they need to get their gas pedal/floor mat stuff in order, but seriously now. Remember the whole Ford "Exploder" thing? By any standard, that was a far, far worse issue than the current Toyota problems, and yet there was substantially less media outcry and howling for blood. The whole thing smacks of witch hunt to me--Ford and GM executives leading the charge with pitchforks in hand.

Again, I'm not saying Toyota deserves to get off on this one, but I wish there could be a little more perspective. And when Toyota stock hits rock bottom sometime later this year, I say buy!
posted by Go Banana at 9:27 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


The Woz thing referenced by DU above: Apple Co-Founder Says His Prius Has Acceleration Flaw
posted by splatta at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2010


However, to the best of my recollection, Ford wasn't squandering a built-over-decades reputation for quality.

True, but I just don't think this will ruin the company. Toyota is so big and so global that they can eat the costs of this. The only thing they have to lose is face. And this is just America, so it's just not that big a deal to them to lose face to customers who they think don't know what face is.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:28 AM on February 23, 2010


“I would not consider . . . of value . . . in getting to the root causes of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.”

Where can I find this full sentence? Not that I'm paranoid, but it just reeks of twisting the words to mean something else.
posted by Big_B at 9:29 AM on February 23, 2010


I hope this totally destroys Toyota, so I can pick one up for cheap. They're still damn good cars.
posted by mullingitover at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Henry Waxman is a fucking idiot who I guarantee hasn't read whatever report he is criticizing and wouldn't understand it if he did.
posted by Arch_Stanton at 9:31 AM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I find it difficult to believe that Toyota would be covering up something like this. They have a very good reputation.

I think they were hoping their brand rep would something they could leverage and they've been so shady about the recalls. NHTSA pretty much forced them to do something (after insurance cos. brought it to their attention) and they're like, fine we'll just say it's the floormats. Then, oh, it's a mechanical failure in the brake design. They still refuse to investigate the software.

I read some post somewhere that said that Toyota's cost benefit analysis included the reasoning that since most people who were caught in the unintended acceleration ended up dead, they could just chalk it up to driver error and not have to deal with it.
posted by anniecat at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


And on the gripping hand, Woz says software.

I remember hearing that Woz was basically the consumer that brought attention to this problem. Was that correct or did I misunderstand?

I always wondered what it would take for the "I will never buy another American vehicle again" crowd to check themselves. But I guess Toyota apologetics are in full effect.

Is this directed at people in this thread? I'm not sure what you're referring to, here.
posted by shmegegge at 9:32 AM on February 23, 2010


Man, I need to buy a car this summer, and all this hysteria couldn't come at a better time. Hopefully the prices for 4Runners crash around late August.

And for those young to remember Audi in the 80's, this isn't the first time a car company was accused of sudden acceleration problems. Those claims were found to be bullshit, the current claims against Toyota could find themselves to be the same.
posted by sideshow at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm still not quite getting why Toyota has been hit so hard over this. They are hardly the only cars to get stuck pedals; my Passat, for example, had it happen a few times (about 4 I think over 10 years). I've heard of it on other models as well. Recalls happen, and some of them involve safety issues. Sometimes they don't get to the right cause the first time around. Toyota's are, generally speaking, very safe and very reliable. Why are they getting hit so hard? Is it just a perfect storm based on unlucky timing? Conspiracy? Tragically bad PR? Slow news day (outside of a couple of wars, of course)?
posted by Bovine Love at 9:36 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Those claims were found to be bullshit, the current claims against Toyota could find themselves to be the same.

This has been reported to be an issue for at least a year and a half, and Toyota was already working with regulators to control the PR damage.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


fusinski: "I always wondered what it would take for the "I will never buy another American vehicle again" crowd to check themselves. But I guess Toyota apologetics are in full effect."

I own an American vehicle, and I'm not impressed with it. Probably won't buy American again, and I'd trade it for one of the recalled Toyotas in a heartbeat.
posted by mullingitover at 9:37 AM on February 23, 2010


mad max - "right, the pedal sticks, but out here, that's not a bug, it's a feature"
posted by pyramid termite at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I read some post somewhere that said that Toyota's cost benefit analysis included the reasoning that since most people who were caught in the unintended acceleration ended up dead, they could just chalk it up to driver error and not have to deal with it.
posted by anniecat


Citation needed? Not snarking, I'm just curious to read more about this if it's something compelling, rather than "some post somewhere."
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:39 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it's partly because many of us are aware that a serious safety issue in a car won't earn company attention until it becomes a big enough financial concern to merit a recall. That Toyota seemed, in the public view, to be stalling the recall with what may be a "I can't hear you, lalalala" style of rhetoric has gotten people riled up. If they really have been ignoring complaints of a safety issue this dangerous (one that makes their cars not only dangerous to the drivers/passengers, but anyone else on the road with one) by pretending it doesn't exist when overwhelming evidence might demonstrate it DOES exist is a huge problem. I don't know how many of these factors are known, or are just suspected, though.
posted by shmegegge at 9:40 AM on February 23, 2010


Big_B: "[[“I would not consider . . . of value . . . in getting to the root causes of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.”]]

Where can I find this full sentence? Not that I'm paranoid, but it just reeks of twisting the words to mean something else.
"

Waxman's letter is quoting [with those ellipses] what Michael Pecht, a professor of mechanical engineering at the University of Maryland, and director of the University's Center for Advanced Life Cycle Engineering (CALCE) "told the Committee" - so perhaps it's in the Congressional record somewhere.

But I don't think any twisting is required in this case. The "I would not consider... of value" link above the fold explains pretty clearly why the report would be of no value.
posted by Joe Beese at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2010


I'm still not quite getting why Toyota has been hit so hard over this.
posted by Bovine Love


Part of it is that people love (or news stations love?) a fall from greatness story. Toyota has been considered on top for quality for a long time, so people get a certain glee from trying to fell a giant.

Personally I don't think it's that big a deal, since the number of accidents caused by any of these issues is surely to be statistically orders of magnitude less than countless other issues causing car crashes on a daily basis. Not that they shouldn't fix the problem, just that I wish the media apparatus would gain some perspective.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:43 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Bovine Love, have you been following this story or reading the links? It has very little to do with it actually being a stuck pedal. I refer you to all the links in this Jalopnik, but reading the comments. There is no way that California Highway Patrol guy didn't do everything in his power to stop that car. And there are a ton of Toyota defenders unwilling to understand the core issue that a company knows exactly what it's doing and will try to spin and cover up as much as possible to minimize the damage to their product, while putting a lot of lives in jeopardy. Honestly, this is just how companies work.
posted by anniecat at 9:44 AM on February 23, 2010


Found it. It was from Dr. Michael Pecht, who thinks the problem is related to electromagnetic interference. The Exponent study didn't seem to address that (from my brief read), so from his perspective "would not consider this (Toyota) report to be of value to the committee, to NHTSA or to Toyota in getting to the root causes of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles” becuase they didn't specifically test what he thinks is the problem.

Seems like these are two different things to me.
posted by Big_B at 9:44 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


shmegegge: It was directed at me.

The funny thing is, I don't even consider myself engaged in apologetics here. The Toyotas have a problem. How much of a problem yet remains to be seen. This could be a big problem, this could be 90% witch-hunt bullshit as sideshow says.

I've bought American, I've bought German, and I've bought Japanese. My Prius still remains the best, most reliable car I have ever owned.

"Taking them down a peg" doesn't even need to entail some major conspiracy involving the Mossad, Jimmy Hoffa, and an itchy infestation of thetans, either -- it's just how things happen. Competing interests catch wind of a potential problem, and they conflate it for their own benefit. The political climate in the US right now is ripe to run with this, too. After all, Detroit is hurting pretty badly, so if anybody is actually still doing well, then they must be cheating, right?

Who knows. Maybe they are, and maybe they aren't. They're a corporation. A big one. And their #1 goal is maximizing shareholder profit above all else. Just like any other corporation. Personal feelings on that particular wasps' nest are probably best left to another thread.

You want to know a car that I had endless problems with, including numerous recalls? Volkswagen. Including a recall for an issue that caused child seats to launch foward through the windshield like so many cheerfully-colored plastic projectiles. Know why we didn't hear about that all over the news, but we've been completely inundated with news regarding Toyota and Honda lately?

I think you do, if you're honest with yourself.
posted by kaseijin at 9:45 AM on February 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


There's a lot of apologism going both ways here; the media seems obsessed over trashing toyota for this rare (albeit highly dangerous) fault which they are taking the proper steps to correct. At the same time, they seem to be denying everything about the actual fault to congress, and that doesn't sound like something worth defending.
posted by tehloki at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2010


I own an American vehicle, and I'm not impressed with it. Probably won't buy American again, and I'd trade it for one of the recalled Toyotas in a heartbeat.

IMO these kinds of statements are absurd. There are easly over 100 Detroit-3 vehicles and you are going to judge the entirety of the set from one data point, and then follow it up with the declaration that the entire set of Toyotas must be better with zero data points? Arg.

Listen, I am from Detroit and I am no American shill... I drive a Nissan for God's sake. But I don't give a hoot about brand when I shop for anything because every company who manufactures anything makes both good stuff and crap from time to time, from phones to TVs to cars, and thus it drives me crazy when people put brands before sense.
posted by fusinski at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2010


there are 911 recordings of stuck gas pedal crashes

Holy cats. I know that people panic, but if you're coherent enough to call 911, you can probably shift into neutral. Isn't that like, basic safety in drivers' ed in a modern vehicle?
posted by uncleozzy at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2010


And no, I don't think this will sink Toyota. It's 85% politics.
posted by kaseijin at 9:46 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


haveanicesummer: "Personally I don't think it's that big a deal, since the number of accidents caused by any of these issues is surely to be statistically orders of magnitude less than countless other issues causing car crashes on a daily basis. Not that they shouldn't fix the problem, just that I wish the media apparatus would gain some perspective."

You mean all the "ZOMG! 13 children a year die from choking on hot dogs!" stories?
posted by Joe Beese at 9:50 AM on February 23, 2010


"I own an American vehicle, and I'm not impressed with it. Probably won't buy American again, and I'd trade it for one of the recalled Toyotas in a heartbeat."

This attitude has always puzzled me. I've owned just about every one of the major brands at one time or another (at last count I've owned some 40+ vehicles), and I've never driven a car so bad it made me say "I will never buy [x] again", let alone "I will never buy a car made by country [x] again". Cars are cars. They're all boxes on wheels to get you from point a to point b, and if you take reasonable care of them, they will usually do the job for many years.

I've owned six AMCs, for crying out loud. If ever there was a make that people derided for being junk...
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 9:51 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You mean all the "ZOMG! 13 children a year die from choking on hot dogs!" stories?
posted by Joe Beese


Exactly. We spend untold millions on fixing (and being shocked, SHOCKED!) by dramatic problems, while boring ones just keep on killing.
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2010


the media seems obsessed over trashing toyota for this rare (albeit highly dangerous) fault which they are taking the proper steps to correct

The problem is it seemed like it took Toyota quite a long time to begin to admit there was a problem at all.

I have to say, I love my 99 Camry. And it's probably got a lot of life left in it (110k miles so far) and I plan on driving it until it falls apart. But if something happened to it tomorrow, and I needed to get another car, I would be thinking twice about going Toyota right now. More likely I'd be looking at used Hondas or Nissans or even Ford or Hyundai.
posted by kmz at 9:53 AM on February 23, 2010


Also only one of the seven vehicles Exponent tested is in the recall list.
posted by Big_B at 9:54 AM on February 23, 2010


Would this be an issue in a manual car? If the throttle suddenly stuck in a manual gearbox vehicle under my control I would simply depress the clutch, place the vehicle in neutral, apply brakes and turn off engine, whilst avoiding the steering lock. After pulling over I'd try a restart in neutral and if it continued then contact the dealer or a mechanic.
posted by longbaugh at 9:54 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Holy cats. I know that people panic, but if you're coherent enough to call 911, you can probably shift into neutral. Isn't that like, basic safety in drivers' ed in a modern vehicle?

First of all, the CHP's brother in law called from the backseat of the car. The car was apparently a keyless Lexus and a loaner. He did what they said and stood on the brake so hard it melted. The highway patrolman was trained for situations like these and I think he probably did everything he could to stop that car, including attempting to put it in neutral. But since there are no survivors, we won't know. Here's a summary of the 911 call.

I love how everyone just assumes that they are so much smarter and would do so much better under the same circumstances and obviously this is all just political huffing and puffing. Yeah, you're all so savvy and such geniuses and everybody, including a trained highway patrolman, is such a dumb shit.
posted by anniecat at 9:57 AM on February 23, 2010 [18 favorites]


NPR said this morning that NHTSA had no software or electrical engineers on staff and wasn't able to directly investigate the onboard computers. I assume they'll hire consultants, but you'd think they'd have a couple on staff in this day and age.

Also, I drive a Toyota, but it's a '94 Hilux.
posted by electroboy at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2010


More likely I'd be looking at used Hondas or Nissans or even Ford or Hyundai.
posted by kmz


For the small amount it's worth, my 08 Hyundai Elantra has been awesome so far (little over a year, 50k miles... god I drive too much).
posted by haveanicesummer at 9:58 AM on February 23, 2010


Edward Norton: Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.
Business woman: Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?
Edward Norton: You wouldn't believe.
Business woman: Which car company do you work for?
Edward Norton: A major one.

posted by Mayor West at 10:02 AM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]



I don't see this destroying the company. The current management tree, maybe, but not the company itself.

I'd expect that everyone involved with denying there is a problem with be visibly fired,


Can we ask that Senators Shelby(Alabama) and Corker (Tennessee) are also fired? These two hand-jobs had quite a bit to say about how GM and Chrysler had hoist themselves on their own petards (true enough) but have been whinging openly about how poor, poor Toyota has been unfairly lambasted in the press.

I drive a Toyota, and I have no more fear of new Toyotas than I have of driving any other vehicle (other than perhaps the aforementioned Pinto). I worked in the Automotive Industry for 25 years and I know well of Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) that never elevated to the level of recall--I drove a Taurus and an Intrepid that suffered from un-recalled maladies that were known to their manufacturers (neither were inherently life threatening) and a couple that had vendored parts that were out of spec that were discovered but unrecalled.

My Toyota has a defect that has two TSB's on it that I know of, and of which my dealer claimed no knowledge. The damned door locks freeze up in the winter when the temperature and humidity reach a certain point--colder & dryer is no problem, but a degree or three below 32F and I have to bungee cord the door shut until the whole car is warm enough to thaw. The problem is behind the door panel and not in the latch or external door lock, and it was through user forums I found that the TSBs exist. Not much they can do about it--the fixes don't stop the problem reliably. My Saab is of a generation that has a too-small oil filter screen which can lead to "sludging" of the oil, and thus an engine failure that cannot reliably be detected. Enough of a problem that eventually they extended the warranty period to 8 years from original sale. I know to use only full synthetics and change every 5000 miles instead of the Mfr recommended 10k.

Point is, every manufacturer of any product has situations where they need to evaluate silent-fix-as-necessary vs. very-public-recall. Ethically, if it involves critical components such as the two current nasty Toyota blunders--accelerators sticking and brake controllers not working properly--I think you have to publicly and proactively recall. The Ford & Chrysler problems I had were ones that could have caused a problem, but weren't likely to--a drive shaft bearing scored the drive shaft to where it might fail somewhere between 40K and 70K miles and at that time the mfr warranted the drivetrain to 50k. The mismatched bearings were estimated at under 2% of the supply on that one engine. Mode of failure would be that the shaft would fail at the bearing, the bearing seal would allow all the engine oil to "exit the system" and in extreme cases the piston cylinders would be scored and the push rods twisted or broken.

I doubt that Toyota's day of shame is done. And jokes about them will enter the language as much as they did about Found On (the) Road Dead, Fix It Again Tony or Corrosion Heavy-Estimates Vary Yearly (thank you Al Aprill). But the greater danger to any one of us is the texting driver or the drunk driver than the drive lever shifting from park to reverse or even the exploding gas tank. Every time you get behind the wheel of a 3000 lb internal combustion engine you are hedging a bet with the Cosmos. The schadenfreude in Toyota's name is unfortunate but not unexpected.
posted by beelzbubba at 10:03 AM on February 23, 2010 [7 favorites]


Yeah, you're all so savvy and such geniuses and everybody, including a trained highway patrolman, is such a dumb shit.

I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
posted by uncleozzy at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


fusinski: every company who manufactures anything makes both good stuff and crap from time to time, from phones to TVs to cars...

What good stuff does GM make? I bought a car last year. Didn't see them on any list that involved a positive recommendation. Chrysler is not far off. Ford was spotty, but had good and bad. Honda and Toyota were very close to uniform positives for all models (Honda's had some rough bits here and there). A "bad" Honda or Toyota model still typically comes in at average or better. A bad GM product is a disaster, and a good one barely scrapes by. My last six vehicles have been Jeep, Jeep, Honda, Toyota, Volkswagon, Infiniti (current). All were driven to death (except the current one); natural or accidental. I am not brand loyal, but I sure as hell can see that some manufacturers variances are in a hugely different class then others. A "bad" Honda or Toyota is still better then a good Jeep.
posted by Bovine Love at 10:04 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


I have no doubt that all the giant international corporations that make cars all have a dollar value associated with various ways a driver can die in their cars, and that those numbers determine a lot of their engineering decisions. And I'm also sure basically everyone involved in the whole decision-making process wishes they could afford to make the cars safer (and more reliable), but realistically they can't. It's possible that Toyota underestimated the risks in this particular component, but I strongly doubt that they value their customers' lives less than the other companies.

Toyota is treading a very narrow line here, or at least, trying to. If they admit guilt too readily, they invite fraudulent claims. "My mother was a very careful driver, so her car was must have been suffering from whatever malfunction you've acknowledged" type situations. It seems to me (without any idea of how common false claims are) that they went well beyond the reasonable amount of skepticism and into a "la la la everything is fine" area. That is what they did completely wrong, and that is "why all the hysteria".
posted by aubilenon at 10:05 AM on February 23, 2010


It's the sleazy way they've looked at this as a PR problem, and they've completely blown up their rep for customer service along the way. Recalls, and recalls over weird issues that are difficult to diagnose, happen all the time, with Audis and VWs and Fords.

Ford's arrogance with the Pinto allowed the Japanese makes to gain a toe-hold into the US market to begin with, and their arrogance with the Explorer rollovers was one small drop in a megatitanic management fiasco that damn near bankrupted the company.

Toyota makes durable, efficient, safe and practical cars - that's their rep. That rep sells cars. That rep has been shaken, first by terrible reliability issues surrounding their full-size pickups that they responded to with spin and handwaving. Now this - families who bought Camrys because they were believed to be bvoth safe and reliable are now worried.

If Toyota had handled it like the Tacoma recall, they probably would have come out of it smelling like roses. The last generation compact pickup had a serious issue with bodyrot, that prompted a buy-back program from Toyota. Tacoma owners loved Toyota for this, and rewarded them with fanatic brand loyalty and repeat business. Cars are complicated things, customers understand this. Stuff goes wrong. Customers also know that you should 1) listen to them when something is wrong and 2) make it right. If you don't, if you start arguing with them that there is no problem... well.

Toyota may not be super-company anymore. They may be just another car company now, no better or worse than any other. If that's the case, their sales will implode as customers leave in droves... what's the point of brand loyalty if that loyalty isn't rewarded? It won't kill the company, but it may leave them as just another middle-of-the-pack import brand.

Honda and Hyundai/Kia are more than eager to offer discounts to Toyota owners looking for something different...
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:06 AM on February 23, 2010


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp believed it had saved over $100 million by convincing U.S. regulators to end a 2007 investigation of sudden acceleration complaints with a relatively cheap floormat recall, according to an internal company document.

Their win alright.
posted by anniecat at 10:07 AM on February 23, 2010


Toyota's problem is that their entire brand has been built on the perception that they were unlike the (formerly) Big Three. By refusing to acknowledge the scope of the problem, waiting until the DOT forced recalls, and by bragging about saving money by limiting the scope of the recalls and successfully lobbying to delay the implementation of tougher safety standards (putting profits above safety,) they're now perceived as behaving the same as any of the other large auto companies.
posted by theclaw at 10:07 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Hill did not know if Saylor tried to shift the vehicle into neutral or turn it off – actions safety experts say may have been impossible if the car was experiencing a malfunction. The shut-off button on the car must be held for three seconds to turn the car off, experts said.

And I thought I hated electronic power buttons on computers. When I say OFF I mean RIGHT NOW, dammit. Don't think you are smarter than me. All power buttons should by physical and cause a direct and immediate open circuit.
posted by DU at 10:10 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


This feels more a witchhunt than anything else. Perhaps the political wing of this spectacle has something to do with Toyota benfiting the most from the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

The claims by the Illinois professor who claims to be able to trigger unintended acceleration need to be verified before I'll buy into it. Remember that Toyotas have a drive-by-wire system. How much pressure you put on that pedal creates an electrical signal the computer then translates into how much throttle to give the engine. Hacking a gas pedal to report a faster speed without triggering any ECU warnings wouldn't be difficult. Proving such conditions can occur through everyday use (moisture or frayed wiring causing a short) and then not triggering errors with the ECU is another thing entirely. Furthermore, Toyota states that the professor first presented them with a scenario that could not trigger unintended acceleration in the real world (it'd be like immersing your computer in water and claiming it doesn't work because of faulty manufacturing). The new demonstration this professor did for ABC News has not been presented to Toyota yet, but it's probably the professor is up to the same thing.

The blog post linked to in this story is written by a random blogger who really doesn't seem to understand what he or she is talking about. For example the blog post mentions that there are several groups from Exponent conducting tests on the problem. One group, which has been asked to provide an interim report on the parts they were responsible for testing, reported no findings. The blogger (and Waxman, it seems) are taking this to be a complete report on the whole of the problem, when in fact it is a report on only one small part of it.

Furthermore, they (Waxman and the blogger) point to an internal report about a problem with acceleration during development of the system. The problem being that as you accelerated the car would speed up and slow down rapidly. The problem was how the software responded to sensor inputs and they changed the software to smooth the throttle output. That's a different problem than what Toyota is dealing with now, but they're pointing to this as evidence Toyota knew this problem existed, but that's just a completely wrong conclusion to make.

The rush to judgement is wrong and the blogger (and Waxman) need to get themselves better informed on what's happening. The tests at Exponent are still ongoing, not every group is providing interim reports, so the simple fact is we don't have all the information because not all the tests have been completed. Until that time it's a waste of time and effort to rush to judgement and denounce Toyota.

The universal message coming from all arms of Toyota that it's definitely NOT a problem with the electronics. This leads me to believe Toyota has already done extensive internal testing on the system and they know it's not software. Furthermore, the current pedal "fix" (along with the floor mat "fix") lead me to believe the real problem is careless drivers. But it would be such a PR disaster to try and blame the consumer that rather than make such a statement they're going to alter the cars to deal with numb-footted American drivers.

It's a bit like those Maclaren baby strollers that were recalled in the US (and ONLY in the US) because it's better PR to recall then to point out that parents are being negligent in not keeping an eye on their children's fingers as they bring the bar down on the stroller.
posted by ruthsarian at 10:11 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And I thought I hated electronic power buttons on computers. When I say OFF I mean RIGHT NOW, dammit. Don't think you are smarter than me. All power buttons should by physical and cause a direct and immediate open circuit.
posted by DU


I dunno, in a car I could see many people pressing this accidentally and then freaking out when their car turned off. It might be better for you, but for the average driver? Not sure.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:12 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wait WHAT? Cars you can't just TURN OFF by flipping a key? Dear fucking lord who designed that shit? Hold a button three seconds to make the car turn off? You know that right there is some really, really shitty design. I'm a gentle person but right now I'm so angry I could punch the manager who approved that right to the floor.

EVERY SINGLE ONE of the factory machines that makes those cars has a big fucking red button on it that anyone, at any time, can press that INSTANTLY stops that machine. It's called an E-STOP, and it's fucking mandated by law.

You're telling me these modern cars doesn't have an e-stop function at least as easy to use as shoving the shift into neutral or turning a key? Someone needs to fucking go to jail.

I'm just ... flabbergasted.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:13 AM on February 23, 2010 [12 favorites]


Someone needs to fucking go to jail.
posted by seanmpuckett


Um, no.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:15 AM on February 23, 2010


I dunno, in a car I could see many people pressing this accidentally and then freaking out when their car turned off.

A car that stops when you don't want it to is a lot better than a car that doesn't stop when you do.
posted by enn at 10:16 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


And by "stops" I mean "shuts off," not "stops moving."
posted by enn at 10:16 AM on February 23, 2010


havanicesummer, I think that "the average driver" could be trained in the use of that button, just like they're trained in the use of a gas pedal and steering wheel in the operation of a two ton metal machine that has more destructive kinetic energy imbued in it than a stick of dynamite. I think a sentence would do the trick: "Don't push that button unless the car experiences runaway acceleration." I mean, we have licenses and tests and all.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:17 AM on February 23, 2010


In 30+ years of driving, I took it as a given that the brake system can always overpower the the drivetrain. So even if the throttle was stuck, you should be able to slow down or stop a car by stomping on the brakes or pulling the emergency brake (assuming you somehow couldn't put the car into neutral).

So it boggles my mind when Toyota recently admitted that they'll finally install software upgrades to their brake system that disables accelerator when both gas and brakes are pressed. Shouldn't they have thought of this before releasing vehicles with electronic throttles?
posted by jaimev at 10:17 AM on February 23, 2010


A car that stops when you don't want it to is a lot better than a car that doesn't stop when you do.
posted by enn


I agree, but I think they are both issues which could cause problems (and accidents). If Toyota had ended up killing some cop because a car turned off at the wrong time, people would be frothing at the mouth too. Fixing a problem by causing another isn't the best plan ever.
posted by haveanicesummer at 10:18 AM on February 23, 2010


If Toyota had ended up killing some cop because a car turned off at the wrong time, people would be frothing at the mouth too.

I don't think so. Cars often fail to continue moving for a variety of reasons. That's why we have things like safe following distances and so forth. Cars failing to STOP moving is completely new and frankly unreasonable.
posted by DU at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2010


Bovine Love: What good stuff does GM make? ... Ford was spotty. But really, you needed me to do that for you? Shall I hop over to CNN and Edmunds and KBB and make the list longer?
posted by fusinski at 10:24 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I agree, but I think they are both issues which could cause problems (and accidents). If Toyota had ended up killing some cop because a car turned off at the wrong time, people would be frothing at the mouth too.

Not if it was because somebody turned it off. A mechanical rocker switch is not going to go and do things by itself. In any case, people with those court-ordered breathalyzer interlock switches have their cars shutting off in traffic all the time because the device didn't register their breath soon enough and while that seems kind of terrifying to me I'd think if it were actually causing accidents in any significant number it would have been reported.
posted by enn at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2010


When I say OFF I mean RIGHT NOW, dammit. Don't think you are smarter than me. All power buttons should by physical and cause a direct and immediate open circuit.

Requiring the button to be held (though 3 seconds seems a bit long) prevents accidental presses from being registered. Last thing you want is someone fiddling on the control panel for a signal or a windshield wiper or something, and hitting the power button.
posted by explosion at 10:26 AM on February 23, 2010


In 30+ years of driving, I took it as a given that the brake system can always overpower the the drivetrain...

This was true of the old VW Rabbit diesels - apply the brakes in gear, and the motor stalls (eventually). It's a little different when the computer also works the brakes - and when the engine is pushing 270hp, as the Camry's does.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2010


LOL Oh please. The government doesn't need to create any sensationalism when there are 911 recordings of stuck gas pedal crashes, for crying out loud.

I don't really get that. Seems like they could have just shifted into neutral, or turned off the engine or something.

Also, you get bonus points for a) implying a conspiracy and b) dismissing two entities merely for being from the USA.

That's how it looks to most people in Japan, supposedly. The hysteria over this seems pretty over the top, frankly. Recalls happen all the time, and I don't really see why is such a big deal.

I certainly wouldn't worry driving one.
I read some post somewhere that said that Toyota's cost benefit analysis included the reasoning that since most people who were caught in the unintended acceleration ended up dead, they could just chalk it up to driver error and not have to deal with it.
Uh, where did you read that? That's a pretty major claim and, you know, it would be good to have some actual evidence. Some people made a similar cost benefit analysis with the pinto or something, (figuring paying settlements would be cheaper then doing a recall) and the people who were involved were charged with murder. That was referenced in the movie fight club and a lot of people are aware of it.
Henry Waxman is a fucking idiot who I guarantee hasn't read whatever report he is criticizing and wouldn't understand it if he did.
That clip is pretty funny, but he might be uninformed on that one issue. It doesn't make him an idiot. Although he really ought to learn more about the issue before trying to legislate. I think sports should regulate themselves, and the antitrust exemption they get should be eliminated.
Would this be an issue in a manual car? If the throttle suddenly stuck in a manual gearbox vehicle under my control I would simply depress the clutch, place the vehicle in neutral, apply brakes and turn off engine, whilst avoiding the steering lock. After pulling over I'd try a restart in neutral and if it continued then contact the dealer or a mechanic.
Nothing is stopping anyone from shifting into neutral in an automatic transmission car either.
havanicesummer, I think that "the average driver" could be trained in the use of that button, just like they're trained in the use of a gas pedal and steering wheel in the operation of a two ton metal machine that has more destructive kinetic energy imbued in it than a stick of dynamite. I think a sentence would do the trick: "Don't push that button unless the car experiences runaway acceleration." I mean, we have licenses and tests and all.
Or they could just have 'key less' systems that operated the same way keyed systems did, with a switch rather then a pushbutton.
posted by delmoi at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2010


I mean, really. Dead simple engineering. Turn on the car and a latching solenoid closes that allows power to flow to whatever electromechanical device is closest to the main power plant (gas or electric or both). The solenoid is wired through a normally closed circuit eStop button. Push the button, the circuit opens, and the solenoid opens, and the car stops producing motive force. Won't close again until you use the "start" system to restart the car. Simple, failsafe (if the wiring fails, the car simply won't run, which is much better than "won't stop"), and would have saved hmm... how many lives already?
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:30 AM on February 23, 2010


While I am pleased to see that Congress is investigating the whole Toyota mess... I do wish they were doing other things on behalf of the wellbeing of consumers. Sadly, it seems they're only doing this one thing because it is good PR for Congress. I could probably name another 10 consumer-harm (not necessarily death) issues I'd like to see them taking action on, which will have much more long-term negative and wide-spread consequences over time.
posted by hippybear at 10:33 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


Requiring the button to be held (though 3 seconds seems a bit long) prevents accidental presses from being registered.

But there are so many ways to ensure that accidental switch activation is unlikely that don't exemplify shit UI design. Looking at a pressure switch, there is no way to know that it requires a press-and-hold to activate (who reads the manual for a rental car?) — and how far is 3 seconds at 60mph anyway? You could use a rotary switch which could be activated much more quickly than that and yet is also unlikely to be activated accidentally, or put a cover over the switch.
posted by enn at 10:33 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I haven't been in a new car in a while so I don't know how extreme technology has pervaded with things like electric shifting, but, like uncleozzy mentioned, is there really no way to put the car in neutral? Even if it was an automatic, I would think that would still be a mandatory requirement, not just for safety, but for basic things like moving the car if the battery is dead.
posted by quin at 10:35 AM on February 23, 2010


Requiring the button to be held (though 3 seconds seems a bit long) prevents accidental presses from being registered. Last thing you want is someone fiddling on the control panel for a signal or a windshield wiper or something, and hitting the power button.

Riiiiight. Because putting some kind of flip-up guard or barrier around the e-stop button to require deliberate contact with the button is impossible. Like on all those industrial machines which have exactly those "no accidental press" guards in place.
posted by hippybear at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Last thing you want is someone fiddling on the control panel for a signal or a windshield wiper or something, and hitting the power button.

No the last thing you want is people to be trapped in a speeding car and then to die a horrible death because the machine wouldn't obey their commands.
posted by DU at 10:36 AM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


Uh, where did you read that? That's a pretty major claim and, you know, it would be good to have some actual evidence.

I think it was a snarky joke the blogger was making. I thought it was on Jalopnik, but I certainly wouldn't take it to be a fact. I wouldn't be surprised though, if that's what they thought, that they could just sweep it under the "Driver Error" rug since everyone who would be in a runaway car would be dead at the end.
posted by anniecat at 10:37 AM on February 23, 2010


Toyota has more paid lobbists than any other foregin car maker, and they have hired away people who worked for auto oversite in Washington. This will tell you abut the overlapping of our congress and Toyota:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/35293626/
posted by Postroad at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


You can have my Toyota when you pry it from my cold dead hands.

And if the accelerator sticks, you might have to!
posted by mazola at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love how everyone just assumes that they are so much smarter and would do so much better under the same circumstances and obviously this is all just political huffing and puffing. Yeah, you're all so savvy and such geniuses and everybody, including a trained highway patrolman, is such a dumb shit.

Not certain if you're directing this at me, but since you mention it, this is part of the reason I would never ever use a car with an automatic shift. Fuck that. I will decide what I want the engine and transmission to do, in advance, thank you very much. I do not see that a malfunctioning EMU/throttle would cause a problem if you simply detached the running of the engine from the turning of the drive wheels and then terminated the fuel supply to the engine.

I've actually been in situations like the one mentioned and have acted calmly to resolve them, including a blow out in a steering/drive wheel at UK motorway speeds. I am not saying I would react well with an automatic, but since I'd rather ride a horse and cart the point is moot.

Also, I'd agree with seanmpuckett. Who in hell would trust a car where you can't turn off the engine at will?
posted by longbaugh at 10:40 AM on February 23, 2010


I have a dumb question. As a manual transmission driver, I don't know much if anything about automatics; I've driven a few, but the few I've had experience with require a foot on the brake to shift, and I've never changed an auto transmission while the car is moving.

Can you really put an automatic in neutral while it's rolling? Because if you cannot, that should certainly be a required safety feature in all models.
posted by MegoSteve at 10:40 AM on February 23, 2010


Are we seriously talking about making it possible to kill the electronics in a moving vehicle? Have any of you ever tried this? Hint: it's a lot more dangerous than just disengaging the drivetrain. Think no power steering, no power brakes.
posted by mullingitover at 10:40 AM on February 23, 2010


MegoSteve: "Can you really put an automatic in neutral while it's rolling? Because if you cannot, that should certainly be a required safety feature in all models."

Yes, you can put an automatic in neutral while it's moving, no problem. If the throttle is stuck the worst that will happen is it'll rev the engine without affecting the vehicle's speed.
posted by mullingitover at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm still not quite getting why Toyota has been hit so hard over this.

In a nutshell:

1. The audio of the 911 call from the off-duty trooper before the crash: incredibly compelling.

2. The sheer number of Toyotas on the road being recalled: likely that people own one or have a personal friend or family member who does.

3. The appearance of profits ahead of safety1: slideshows showing active manipulation of the NHTSA to avoid recalls and investigations.

4. The appearance of incompetence: first Toyota claimed there were no problems, then claimed there was a problem with the floor mats, then claimed there was a problem with the gas pedals, and so confidence that the true cause has been found is very low.

5. The appearance of trying to cover things up: see #4 above.

6. The out-of-control factor: people said "why didn't they pull the gas pedal back up" until they found out it's happened in at least one car without the gas pedal being down; people said "why didn't they turn off the ignition" until they found out it was push-button ignitions that most people don't know how to turn off when the car is moving; people said "why didn't they hit the brakes" until they found out that the power assist goes out before the car stops if the incident begins at a high speed; people said "why didn't they shift into neutral" until they heard of an as-yet-unproven report in 1997 where someone shifted into neutral but the transmission didn't go into neutral. It makes people feel like there's nothing they can do and nothing that can be done if it happens to them.

Many of these items may turn out to be unsubstantiated/untrue, but there's an awful lot of smoke going on right now, and the resulting media-induced smoke signals are mighty strong, indeed.

1understood that other companies do this, but with Toyota we have slides to show on teevee. no sense getting into the overall ethics of this for the context of my comment.
posted by davejay at 10:42 AM on February 23, 2010 [13 favorites]


I really hope this doesn't sink Toyota.. my parents at one point had a red '96 Land Cruiser, a green '04 Tundra and my sister had a '99 4Runner. They were awesome trucks and I always felt like a badass driving them around.

Not to single you out, but these are the kind of gas-guzzling SUVs and full-size trucks that Detroit was lambasted for building.

Remember the whole Ford "Exploder" thing? By any standard, that was a far, far worse issue than the current Toyota problems, and yet there was substantially less media outcry and howling for blood.

There was a lot of hue and cry over Ford/Firestone at the time (that's why we remember it.)

There's a lot of apologism going both ways here; the media seems obsessed over trashing toyota for this rare (albeit highly dangerous) fault which they are taking the proper steps to correct.

After a year and a half of denying that there was a fault and being forced by the NHTSA to fix it.

What good stuff does GM make?

Off the top of my head? Cadillac CTS, Chevrolet Malibu, Buick Lacrosse, Buick Enclave (and badge cousins,) full-size trucks and SUVs, Chevrolet Corvette.

This feels more a witchhunt than anything else. Perhaps the political wing of this spectacle has something to do with Toyota benfiting the most from the "Cash for Clunkers" program.

Congress loves to hold hearings on hot-button issues (STEROIDS IN BASEBALL!!!) to generate press coverage and demonstrate that they're doing their jobs. I thought the NYT had a good article on Toyota's siginificant lobbying expenditures

There's also a fair amount of schadenfreude after the deification of Toyota in the debate on the GM and Chrysler bailouts.
posted by theclaw at 10:44 AM on February 23, 2010


Oh, and has everyone here seen the video of the Lexus owner's steering wheel going nuts? It's amazing to watch, and really drives home how much computers are involved in the direct driving experience.

Note that the video displays behavior that is currently assumed to be the result of an aftermarket HID kit interfering with the power steering CPU (there are three cars known to demonstrate this behavior, all three of which have a kit installed) so this isn't "Ooo Lexus Sucks" but "Ooo there are really a lot of computers controlling things, raising the likelihood of an unanticipated issue causing dangerous behavior."
posted by davejay at 10:47 AM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


While I have no doubt that there has been more than a little CYA on the part of Toyota, I can't help but also be struck by the more-than-enthusiastic feeding frenzy on the part of media and other observers. It's like someone kicked a 50-gallon barrel of chum overboard. Hell, even our local news gleefully chimes-in with regular "How Toyota is Trying to Kill You Now" teasers.

It's all very ugly.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:47 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was driving a car that had a piece of the throttle mechanism break, leaving me stuck at full throttle. On a twisty Ozark mountain road, behind a slow moving car, with 5 miles to the nearest pull-over spot. I rode the brakes to keep from rear-ending the car in front of me till we got somewhere there was a shoulder, then pulled over and slowed the car down to a complete stop, with the brakes that had held my speed down against a full throttle engine for 6-10 mins already, then turned the engine off.

These brand new toyotas should borrow the brakes from my, then, 10 year old audi. I didn't even have to replace the brake pads, just opened the hood, saw the piece of broken plastic wedged into the throttle, pulled it out, and was on my way again.
posted by nomisxid at 10:48 AM on February 23, 2010


EVERY SINGLE ONE of the factory machines that makes those cars has a big fucking red button on it that anyone, at any time, can press that INSTANTLY stops that machine. It's called an E-STOP, and it's fucking mandated by law.

This is a really good point, and one that I hadn't considered even though cars without keys have been around for awhile now, but are only recently making it down to non-luxury brands. If I'm hurtling down a road with a floored gas pedal I can assure you I want both hands on wheel, and taking one off to hold a little button on the dash for 3 seconds is going to be difficult.
posted by Big_B at 10:49 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, I also can't help but think this is all a natural result of cars becoming far too computerized.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:49 AM on February 23, 2010


Remember the whole Ford "Exploder" thing? By any standard, that was a far, far worse issue than the current Toyota problems, and yet there was substantially less media outcry and howling for blood.

I respectfully disagree; anyone with an Explorer could simply inflate their tires properly or replace them to solve the problem, whereas this issue with Toyota does not have an easy-to-understand solution that everyone can understand. Where there is uncertainty and fear, there is a stronger outcry.
posted by davejay at 10:50 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I can't help but think this is an indictment of the automatic transmission. On a manual transmission all one would need to do is engage the clutch, problem solved. With an automatic transmission you could likewise put the car in neutral, but it sounds like drivers who only know how to operate an automatic are so disengaged from driving that this never occurs to them.
posted by mullingitover at 10:55 AM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


It should be more of an indictment of drive-by-wire. I can assure you that eventually there will be a drive-by-wire clutch pedal if there isn't already. Same issues.
posted by Big_B at 11:07 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


My mistake, my definition of "good" was clearly very different then Car & Driver's, or some people here. For example, I've driven a Malibu, as well as surveyed it reliability records. IMO, complete piece of crap. The full sized trucks all have significant maintenance problems, though they "last" a very long time (i.e. not catastrophic failure).

I'll accept that some people have different criteria than me and leave it there, but throw in one anecdote:

My g/f and I both owned 1999 vehicles, purchased new, for 10 years. She owned a Civic. I owned a Passat. Both were very highly rated in initial quality, blah blah; the Passat was a CR #1 recommended in class. But the maintenance records tell a different tale: The passat will cost you a considerable sum to keep running, and the civic will not. This was born out in our anecdotal experience, with my passat pretty much following the stats dead on, and her civic doing so as well. My passat was a lot nicer to drive, quiet, reasonably powerful and safe as designed (though throttle sticking was a problem). So, by driving standards, my passat was a better car, by a fair margin. By *owning* standards, the civic was superior by far (and quite a few thousand dollars). If you want to know what a car is really like, IMO, look at the maintenance record.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:10 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Driver error causes far more deaths and accidents than rapid acceleration, poorly designed off switches, etc, etc, etc. People won't want to give up control of their driving, but in the long run if we gave over that control to computer systems, on average we'd be far safer (once the technology has matured of course, not saying we should do it tomorrow).
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:13 AM on February 23, 2010


Someone needs to fucking go to jail.
posted by seanmpuckett

Um, no.
posted by haveanicesummer


I'm with summer on this one. Cuz the "someone" is probably all of us. The push-button start that seems so trendy now came from designer realizations of customer input. You see it on Nissan as well as Toyota and until this Lexus disaster, it would have probably crept back into every model eventually. Cars used to have push button starters in the 50s, but it was dropped because it made cars that much easier to steal.

How far can a car travel in 3 seconds at 60 MPH? Uhhh, 264 feet. The Lexus in question was going 120/125 mph? Then about 1/10th of a mile. And throwing it into neutral would not stop it, just stop adding more motive power. If the brakes were trashed by then (according to the reports linked above) then friction would take quite a bit more time to stop it. A kill switch that instantly stopped the vehicle such as the emergency stops on the "no hands in die" safety switches would cause more problems than it would cure, imo. And my experience in machine shops working on a deadline lead me to believe that amateur overrides would flourish, again leading to more problems.

The family in the Lexus should not be blamed for the crash--no more questions about "couldn't they have just opened the doors and flung themselves free?" please. Toyota needs to make it right. I also understand Toyota's caution--as one person above noted, the number of ads we'll see soon from Sokolove. Esq. et al (Have you or a loved on recently driven a Toyota? Call the Law Offices of James Sokolove for a consultation--you may be entitled to a settlement) would make it worth getting rid of my television.

And the BS about that Toyota employs more lobbyists than any other "foreign manufacturer" needs to stop, too. Toyota is as much a domestic producer as GM is. I used to have this argument with students who argued that Japanese manufacturers had as their prime objective the downfall of the American economy. How, in any rational sense, is that in their best interest? Subaru, Isuzu, Toyota and Honda all manufacutre and assemble in the United States. They use foreign content? So do the so-called domestics. Freudenberg-NOK, a German-Japanese conglommo, is one of the biggest suppliers of bearings, seals, and gaskets. Where did your Ford engine come from? Mexico? Brazil? Do you know? Do you care?

Someone needs to go to jail? Yeah. I guess you probably are right. The American Public for letting the US Congress play this for the cameras instead of getting some real work done that will put America back to work.
posted by beelzbubba at 11:17 AM on February 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


BovineLove, by your logic my 1993 Subaru was the best car ever made--and it may have been. It finally died by oil-seal failure at just over 205,000 miles. But my 2001 SAAB 9-5 is the nicest car I've ever driven, hands down. And, barring the little entré nous oil-pickup filter problem, probably the best engineered, too. You said yourself that your Passat was quieter, drove nicer, powerful, safe (though you didn't say more powerful or safer than your gf's Civic, so I won't impute that). What value do you put on that? Or do you only value how much you spent in maintenance. Wait--I never spent a dime on maintenance on my 1963 VW Beetle! It must be a much better car than than my ---- (fill in the blank-- I've owned over 25 cars in my 40+ years of driving).
posted by beelzbubba at 11:26 AM on February 23, 2010


Driver error causes far more deaths and accidents than rapid acceleration, poorly designed off switches, etc, etc, etc. People won't want to give up control of their driving, but in the long run if we gave over that control to computer systems, on average we'd be far safer (once the technology has matured of course, not saying we should do it tomorrow).
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:13 AM on February 23


Yeah, okay, I get it. Rah rah car companies. Drivers are losers and people killed by sudden acceleration deserve it. Are you done yet?
posted by anniecat at 11:30 AM on February 23, 2010


The crazy thing is when I took Operations Management for my MBA the TPS (Toyota Production System) was the main focus of how great manufacturing operations should be run. Because of this the issues must be in the design process and not in manufacturing. Maybe the same principles need to be applied to their R&D and design teams.
posted by white_devil at 11:32 AM on February 23, 2010


IMO these kinds of statements are absurd. There are easly over 100 Detroit-3 vehicles and you are going to judge the entirety of the set from one data point, and then follow it up with the declaration that the entire set of Toyotas must be better with zero data points? Arg.

Listen, I am from Detroit and I am no American shill... I drive a Nissan for God's sake. But I don't give a hoot about brand when I shop for anything because every company who manufactures anything makes both good stuff and crap from time to time, from phones to TVs to cars, and thus it drives me crazy when people put brands before sense.


Let me help you out here. Yes, all companies make crap products from time to time. So how can you shun, for example, American car companies in particular?

Far from being irrational, I think it makes eminent sense. The difference is - the key crucial point - in the perception of the company behind the product.

I know that, for example Volvo (before GM) as an organization, was dedicated from top to bottom, to safety in their products. It didn't mean that no faulty products were released - they were designed and made by humans, after all. But at least I knew that it was done by humans trying their very best. Contrast that with the organization behind Pinto, and their attitudes. Here, I have to contend not just with inevitable oversights and mistakes made by human beings trying their very best, but in addition, I have to deal with human beings whose priorities are in the wrong place, and who are not trying their best, and indeed who may be criminally negligent.

Do you now understand why it makes sense, to favor a car made by the former company, rather than the latter one, knowing nothing else about the products?

That's what goes into making a brand - and why it makes sense to take the brand into account. Because we cannot be specialists in every field and top experts on every product - we must use other heuristic rules to make rational decisions about products - this is indeed not merely rational, but represents the only choice.

So for me, I will not buy a product - in this case a car - from companies which have systemic and structural flaws that make them necessarily inferior to their competitors, even if they occasionally manage to come atop some magazine list of "best product"... because I can never be sure what is a fluke that will revert to norm soon enough.

So long as American car companies are organized in such a way, I will never buy an American car. So chalk me up as another "will not buy an American car" - only I disagree that I'm irrational... I think it is YOU who is irrational. We operate in an environment of limited information necessarily, and the question is which heuristic is better justified.

And if it is shown - as seems likely - that the problems at Toyota are systemic, and that they allowed safety to take a back seat (!) to profits, I will stop buying Toyotas (and I drove Toyotas for years). That's why it is a big deal for Toyota - this is not a trivial issue of a few stuck pedals. It is about brand perception - and brand perception/reputation is a rational way of picking products (as long as your perceptions of the brand, and their reputation are accurate).
posted by VikingSword at 11:34 AM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I mean, we have licenses and tests and all.

Ha, ahahaha! That's so cute, the way you think North American testing and licensing is some sort of indication that drivers are competent! Hahaha!

Seriously, our standards are abysmally low. So long as your corpse is still breathing, you're given a license to kill drive.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:40 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


anniecat-

If you have something to dispute haveanicesummer's driver error issues then please do, otherwise it seems like you are just attacking from a "It's all the company's fault" when there is obviously a middle ground to both arguments. Drivers make lots of errors to get themselves killed. I've made a few in my years of driving (obviously not to a fatal end) but to say that hasn't contributed AT ALL to these problems is ignoring reality. Probably not in the in the cop's case, but come on.
posted by Big_B at 11:49 AM on February 23, 2010


"Someone needs to fucking go to jail.
posted by seanmpuckett

Um, no."


Um, yes.

Now it's two to one! Fun!
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 11:50 AM on February 23, 2010


FFF: I'm with you on that, actually. A friend of mine has described in detail what it's like to get a driver license in Japan, and I'm agog with the hours and hours of training and tests and schools and .... I wish we could do that here, but no, of course not, difficult driving tests might make it too difficult to get licensed which would make it hard for people to buy cars and support the careers of literally thousands of lobbyists.
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:51 AM on February 23, 2010


(I drive a newish Toyota and a 40+ year old Ford by the way)
posted by Big_B at 11:51 AM on February 23, 2010


beelzbubba: BovineLove, by your logic my 1993 Subaru was the best car ever made--and it may have been. It finally died by oil-seal failure at just over 205,000 miles. But my 2001 SAAB 9-5 is the nicest car I've ever driven, hands down.

Ah, you are misrepresenting what I say to some extent, particularly if you look at my car list. My latest car is an Infiniti, it is definitely an attempt to get the best of both worlds. If I didn't value things like driving experience, I wouldn't have bought a car that can really put you back in the seat, corners like crazy and -- in general -- is a blast to drive. Looking at history, it should be a reasonably reliable car; much more so then the Passat was. Time will tell. The Passat was so close to a great car, it is a shame. But I can't forgive VW, really, because things they could have fixed (like the nylon bushings that wore out like crazy) they didn't, even after years of constant replacement. A few things weren't quite their fault; the failing ABS control unit bit a lot of car manufacturers on the ass (same unit in all of them). OTOH, they didn't seem to be replacing it with a better unit. I had mine rebuilt by a company which did some re-engineering as well. But over all, they could have tweaked it and made it great, and they didn't. Now I don't trust them to care.

Why should you have to choose between reliable and good driving experience? I'll give you that performance will impact reliability some, but there is no excuse for the majority of cars which have dismal reliability records, particularly those in higher price categories.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:57 AM on February 23, 2010


Yeah, okay, I get it. Rah rah car companies. Drivers are losers and people killed by sudden acceleration deserve it. Are you done yet?

Holy shit, anniecat, you NAILED it! That's EXACTLY what he was saying! Here, have a hamburger, you WIN!
posted by five fresh fish at 11:57 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Because we cannot be specialists in every field and top experts on every product - we must use other heuristic rules to make rational decisions about products - this is indeed not merely rational, but represents the only choice.

This was true before the Internet. But look, you're here! Reviews and experts and comparisons galore, always updated and at your immediate disposal, all yours for the cost of... free.

With all this information freely available to make an educated opinion about any manufactured product, making a major purchasing decision based on "the perception of the company behind the product" rather than on hard data can only be defined as irrational behavior. Brands be damned.
posted by fusinski at 12:05 PM on February 23, 2010


Bovine Love: Was the Malibu you drove an 08 or newer? It's much better than the previous platform. It's not my cup of tea, but Consumer Reports (and most other reviews) like it; CR considers reliability above average. If you have information to the contrary, I'd like to see it.
posted by theclaw at 12:07 PM on February 23, 2010


Yeah, you're all so savvy and such geniuses and everybody, including a trained highway patrolman, is such a dumb shit.

Nobody said the patrolman was dumb. What contributed to the accident is that he was driving a rental that he was unfamiliar with. This brings up the question of standardization. You can pretty much get into any car and drive since the controls -- brakes, accelerator, steering, shifter are all the same. But they are now adding new features that change that standardization and pose new risks. There is a basic conflict between standardization and innovation and differentiation for market advantage.

The keyless push button was, I think, first introduced by Prius. It was a big selling feature that was heavily advertised. Lots of close up pictures of the big push button. How cool to have a computerized car. For safety reasons you wouldn't want the engine to be turned off by accidentally pressing the button while fiddling with the radio, for example. But the flaw in the design was that you had to hold down continuously for three full seconds to turn off the car only when it was moving. This was the key design error. The function of the button changes with context. Someone who had never attempted to turn off the engine when the car was moving would never know that it required pressing for three seconds.

A better solution to the issue of accidental button presses would be to use a button or toggle with safety cover as used in aircraft.

The second contribution to the patrolman accident was the non-standard automatic transmission. It has a sport-shift mode that allowed you to manually shift through the gears. This is an unnecessary feature but appeals to the driving-as-sport mentality. This again is an unnecessary complication that is added for sales appeal.

The problem with this sport shift mode is that it requires you to move the shifter sideways and up through a gate in order to get into neutral. Most auto-transmissions only require pushing forward to get to neutral. Pushing forward with the sport shift simply shifts into a higher gear. It is likely that the patrolman, being unfamiliar with this non-standard feature was unable to figure it out while traveling at 120 mph.

The other factor that may have contributed to the accident is the fact that power brakes are boosted using manifold vacuum. When the throttle is wide open there is no manifold vacuum. There is enough reserve vacuum in the booster for two or three brake applications, but after that you would lose all brake boost and it would be much the same as if you had turned the engine off. The correct thing to do in this situation is to apply the brakes hard once and keep the pedal pressed until stopped. But the instinct in this situation would likely be to pump the brakes which would soon lead to loss of braking power. You might not expect the patrolman to know this.

What this comes down to is that these types of fatal accidents are extremely rare because they require an unlikely combination of errors. The sticking throttle was the initiator but that alone would not normally lead to a fatal accident. It was the combination of problems and a driver unfamiliar with not-standard features that led to the crash. A series of errors is what is usually found in the analysis of air crashes.

Given that there are a lot of safety recalls, why has Toyota been hit by the perfect storm? It think it is that it takes one particularly outstanding incident to spark public interest. In this case it was the California highway patrolman accident which was documented by a live action 911 call. It was the image of a demon possessed car out of a Stephen King novel that really lit the fire. In the light of day, however, it was simply a series of explainable errors.
posted by JackFlash at 12:15 PM on February 23, 2010 [16 favorites]


Chevy Cobalt Being Investigated for Faulty Steering; Recall Possible

My mom's on her third steering column
posted by dirigibleman at 12:33 PM on February 23, 2010


This was true before the Internet. But look, you're here! Reviews and experts and comparisons galore, always updated and at your immediate disposal, all yours for the cost of... free.

With all this information freely available to make an educated opinion about any manufactured product, making a major purchasing decision based on "the perception of the company behind the product" rather than on hard data can only be defined as irrational behavior. Brands be damned.


Nope. Because the issue is not reliance on "reviews and experts" - I subscribe to Consumer Reports and I do scrutinize the stats and I do read reviews. But you missed the point I made here: " even if they occasionally manage to come atop some magazine list of "best product"... because I can never be sure what is a fluke that will revert to norm soon enough."

The problem is that not all issues will be uncovered by experts or captured by a review. It is about the things you may not be able to see.

Really, when you say things like "brands be damned" - you are espousing an untenable position. That is because you are arguing against something that's been vetted by evolution, something which all social animals rely upon - a proven strategy. It's called Reputation.

The reason we go by someone's reputation, is because when faced with a behavior - or product - from an agent with a given reputation, we can reliably make a choice with a high degree of certitude (insofar as the reputation is deserved). We - or an expert - may not be able to tell if this deal is good or bad, but at least, we know that this is the result of a process where integrity is involved. Example: A PERSON WITH A BAD REPUTATION gives you a proposal for a business deal. And a person WITH A GOOD REPUTATION gives you a proposal for a business deal. Which one would you go with, even if an expert says "I can't see a difference between thse proposals"? You go with the person with a good reputation - because even an expert may not uncover everything - and why take a chance? At least with the honest person, I know that the process they went through to structure the deal is an honest one - the other one, I can't be sure. That's why reputation works - because it represents a certain assurance.

The reputation of American cars and car companies is one that they've earned abundantly for decades. I don't trust them, even if an expert at the moment can't uncover anything wrong with a given American car.

Reputation - it makes sense. The brand is important. And that's why losing one's reputation is so devastating - and that's what's at stake in this Toyota fiasco.
posted by VikingSword at 12:39 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]




Reputation - it takes years to earn a good one, and it can be lost very quickly. I think the system works for social animals, even in this era of a complex society - branding is super important, and a company should pay attention to brand perception. When you bungle this, you bungle something very big - heads should roll at Toyota. The caveat is to check and re-check, to make sure the reputation is deserved.
posted by VikingSword at 12:45 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, okay, I get it. Rah rah car companies. Drivers are losers and people killed by sudden acceleration deserve it. Are you done yet?
posted by anniecat


You should be embarassed to have said this. I didn't even say anything positive about car companies in that comment, only that automated safety controls and mechanisms are in the long run safer than human control. I didn't impune the drivers who had rapid acceleration problems, this was clearly not their fault and I would never claim it was. I have no idea how I would have reacted to a car that wasn't mine going 120 mph and the brakes not doing anything, it is more than possible I would be incredibly dead after such an event. My point, if you care (which judging from your interpretation of my statement you likely do not) is that we shouldn't throw computerized controls out completely because Toyota is making mistakes in implementing them. I think it is likely that computerized safety systems have saved far more people than computerized controls have killed. That does not release Toyota from blame for these issues of course, but it should mitigate claims that computer control over driving is completely negative.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:51 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, haveanicesummer.
posted by anniecat at 12:56 PM on February 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


I actually meant the sum of all of your comments that you've made so far in which you've been pretty defensive about toyota and dismissive towards actually investigating Toyota. That's the impression I got from all of your comments. But you're right, I wasn't being fair, and I apologize (without embarrassment).
posted by anniecat at 1:00 PM on February 23, 2010


fusinski : This was true before the Internet. But look, you're here! Reviews and experts and comparisons galore, always updated and at your immediate disposal, all yours for the cost of... free.

In addition to what VikingSword already said, this misses out on the fact that all you are doing is switching from relying on one kind of expertise to another; that of picking the reviewer. How do you know that the reviewer isn't a corporate shill, how do you know that when the reviewer says "it's a joy to drive", they aren't someone who's definition of that is "flat-out on a oval track" as opposed to, say, in daily stop and go traffic.

By way of example, I love movies. I read film reviews all the time, and there is only one reviewer I completely trust. I disagree with her a lot, (her threshold for a bad movie is a lot lower than mine, and I have really enjoyed a number of things she absolutely hated), but there has never been an instance where she recommended something, and I didn't like it.

And it's taken me years of reading her stuff to get to this point of trust. A strangers opinion on the internet? Often worth less than nothing to me, because I always have the sneaking suspicion that they might be getting paid to promote the product.

Which isn't to say that internet reviews are not a resource I use when making decisions, but I'd be lying if I said that sticking with a brand that has been good to me isn't going to be one of my first choices when push comes to shove.
posted by quin at 1:12 PM on February 23, 2010


It has a sport-shift mode that allowed you to manually shift through the gears. This is an unnecessary feature but appeals to the driving-as-sport mentality. This again is an unnecessary complication that is added for sales appeal.

Not disagreeing with your general argument, but when the automatic transmission went screwy IN TRAFFIC on my 2006 Mazda (3 days after I bought the damn thing!) I was still able to operate it safely in manual mode.

I never really got the point of manual in an automatic, but in this case it was indispensable, and possibly saved my life -- certainly it saved me from an accident.
posted by coolguymichael at 1:13 PM on February 23, 2010


I too am confused about the brake vs. throttle issue. Car & Driver posted an article that where they tested the change in braking distance from 70mph-0 between no and full throttle in a Camry and a G37. In both cases the change is less than 10% (see graph at bottom of article). Plus, both cars will go into neutral when moving. Granted that would seem like forever with a stuck accelorator, but it shouldn't usually be a killer.
posted by rtimmel at 1:24 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


People won't want to give up control of their driving, but in the long run if we gave over that control to computer systems, on average we'd be far safer (once the technology has matured of course, not saying we should do it tomorrow).

That's completely meaningless question-begging. "Once computers drive better than people, you'll get better results with computers driving than with people." Well, no shit, but that's got nothing at all to do with anything in empirical reality, where computers do not drive better than people and where there is no reason whatsoever to think they'll do so soon or ever.
posted by enn at 1:25 PM on February 23, 2010


I usually stay out of these threads because of all the bullshit foreign car love, but electronic throttle control has been out for over 10 years. It's a little too late to agonize over it now.

Also, it's pretty obvious by how fast Toyota was able to roll out a fix that they knew about this for a long time.

And GM has the best torque security for electronic controls in the industry, bar none.
posted by rfs at 1:43 PM on February 23, 2010


I too am confused about the brake vs. throttle issue. Car & Driver posted an article that where they tested the change in braking distance from 70mph-0 between no and full throttle in a Camry and a G37. In both cases the change is less than 10% (see graph at bottom of article). Plus, both cars will go into neutral when moving. Granted that would seem like forever with a stuck accelorator, but it shouldn't usually be a killer.

As I explained previously, you lose manifold vacuum and therefore brake boost when the throttle is wide open. The booster stores enough vacuum for only two or three brake presses. The thing to do is to press the brakes once hard and leave them pressed. Pumping the brakes causes you to lose braking power. In the Car & Driver test they don't explicitly describe this but I wouldn't be surprised if they applied the brakes hard once until the car stopped. In a real emergency situation I wouldn't be surprised if someone pumped the brakes, gradually feeling them them get as stiff as a rock and lose effectiveness. You then need three or four times the normal brake pedal pressure. Someone might not be able to figure this out at 120 mph while dodging traffic. They might simply conclude that the brakes had failed.

Also explained above, the car had a sport mode transmission which requires moving the shifter sideways through a gate to reach neutral, unlike most automatic transmissions. Again you might not figure this out when going 120 mph in an unfamiliar car.
posted by JackFlash at 1:46 PM on February 23, 2010


in empirical reality, where computers do not drive better than people and where there is no reason whatsoever to think they'll do so soon or ever.

Then explain automatic transmissions, cruise control, ABS brakes, and traction control. Computers are better than people at maintaining a constant speed on the highway. Computers are better than people at pulsing the brakes quickly to slow the car while maintaining steering control. Computers are better than (some) people at selecting the proper gear and quickly switching between them. Computers are better than people at applying the brake on one spinning wheel because the other one has more traction.

(I dare say that once the technology is here, computers may eventually be better at not falling asleep and driving across the interstate median into oncoming traffic.)
posted by fritley at 1:49 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


BovineLove: Sorry if I misrepresented your point--it wasn't clear to me from the example I read there and I must have missed your list of autos. I think we agree more than dis- ; I don't think we should have to choose btw reliable and good driving experience.

rfs: don't let your GM experience (if by any chance you're the rfs of exhaust gas recovery valve fame) lead you to conclude that a quick response to the problem necessarily means Toyota had long-terma priori knowledge of the problem. From my experience, the 8-D teams put together by Japanese companies move at blitzkrieg speed compared to the glacial pace of getting changes through at 1980-2000 GM (my frame of reference).
posted by beelzbubba at 2:13 PM on February 23, 2010


In response to the Japanese license system upthread, yes, they have to jump through hoops. There's no driver's ed in high school here, and it's (I believe) mandated that you have to go to a private driving school for x number of hours before taking the test. I'll know more by the end of the month, I'm going to try to get mine. As an American, I'm required to take the written and driving test (allegedly due to each state having different requirments), unlike Canadians, Australians, Brits, Germans, New Zealanders (and many others) who just need their license to be translated.

The thing is, the schools, by and large, are owned by, and largely staffed by people who've left the DMV here. It's a requirement that to get a license, you have to pay (a lot of) money to ex-DMV employees. Current DMV employees know what's waiting for them when they retire. It's a nice little set-up.

And the testing itself? Rigorous? Lot's of hours of studying? Pshaw. The Japanese cultural concept of studying is cramming until your eyes blur, then taking the test. Educational studies have shown that cramming is one of the worst methods of study for long term retention, and it shows here. First-year university students barely remember a thing they 'learned' in their last year of high school. And, through personal experience, Japanese drivers are pretty terrifying. As either a pedestrian or cyclist, I spend a great amount of time watching the faces of drivers who might be a danger to me. I see a lot of people doing pretty much anything but paying attention. Children are allowed to pretty much roam free in moving cars (sitting in the front seat, standing in the front seat, sitting on the driver's lap), cell phone use (though technically illegal) is rampant, and mirrors used as grooming aids (both sexes) rather than, y'know, safety.

On the Toyota issue, last night my wife asked me to explain the hearings. I told her it was pretty much the same as hearing here. A chance for something worthwhile, wasted by a bunch of politicians grandstanding for the cameras. Waxman and the others will look dramatic and angry for the cameras, score their points, and move on to the next big thing. I say this as someone without a dog in the fight, no car, no real plans for a car, and not much interest in them since Fix or Repair Daily discontinued my dream car, the Escort Wagon.
posted by Ghidorah at 2:24 PM on February 23, 2010


I dare say that once the technology is here, computers may eventually be better at not falling asleep and driving across the interstate median into oncoming traffic.

They already are.
posted by Jairus at 2:31 PM on February 23, 2010


That's completely meaningless question-begging. "Once computers drive better than people, you'll get better results with computers driving than with people." Well, no shit, but that's got nothing at all to do with anything in empirical reality, where computers do not drive better than people and where there is no reason whatsoever to think they'll do so soon or ever.
posted by enn


I'm sorry if I offended you, but my situation is not meaningless and I do have reason to believe that future is not impossible, unlikely, or even perhaps that far off. In addition to what fritley cited, we also currently have luxury vehicles that park themselves. Also there is an interesting 3 part series from 2008 on Ars Technica about self driving vehicles. I think legal boundaries and public perception will do more to prevent the adoption of the technology than the technology being feasible and effective. Computers are already far better at communicating massive amounts of data quickly and unobtrusively with each other than we humans are. So cars that can (and will) tell each other what they're doing when on the road, will invariably prevent many accidents.
posted by haveanicesummer at 2:32 PM on February 23, 2010


automated safety controls and mechanisms are in the long run safer than human control

I am now quite curious what the safety rates are for manual and automatic transmission automobiles, assuming there is a way to normalize for the difference in their numbers.

From my own experience of driving a manual, I feel that I have greater control over the automobile. As a result, I feel safer driving a manual shift car, than an automatic over which I have much less control.

But I am curious if a non-insignificant fraction of accidents can be attributed to automatics as a result of ceding otherwise life-saving control over the vehicle to computer controls.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:34 PM on February 23, 2010


It's also harder to eat or talk on the phone with a manual transmission.
posted by ryanrs at 4:43 PM on February 23, 2010


In Canada we routinely have pedal trouble when we plop in those after-market slush-trapping floormats. About the worst I've ever experienced is when the mat prevented me from depressing the clutch fully. So I do buy the floormat/sticking pedal scenarios.

I've only read 50% of the comments, but has there been any REAL evidence presented that the Toyota throttle control is genuinely influenced by external electronic interference? So far I only have seen that transcript of the bullshit CNN demo where the cell phone put noise on a TV, fer crissakes.

Having a background in electronics, though not specifically in automotive control systems, I do know that it's widely recognized that the automotive electrical environment is very harsh for electronic signals, so automotive control systems must be built to perform in that environment. If this was a real industry problem, there would have been MANY MANY MANY more occurrences of interference-induced issues than we've seen.

About the only thing that will convince me that electronic interference screws up the Toyota accelerator is if someone is able to make a Toyota car running in drive (on a dynamometer for example) suddenly accelerate when interference is introduced. Has anyone done this test?
posted by Artful Codger at 5:20 PM on February 23, 2010


The thing is, the schools, by and large, are owned by, and largely staffed by people who've left the DMV here. It's a requirement that to get a license, you have to pay (a lot of) money to ex-DMV employees. Current DMV employees know what's waiting for them when they retire. It's a nice little set-up.

It's better than that -- in Japan, driver licensing is the responsibility of the police. They run the licensing centers, handle renewals, and all that fun stuff. Registered private driving schools handle everything, including issuing provisional licenses, up until the final exam (which the government licensing centers run). As you mentioned, the result is that the private driving schools that feed into the system hire former instructors from the licensing centers who know the system inside and out, who can teach the test rather than good driving, and who receive lots of money from students for that knowledge (the average cost to get a license is about US$2,000-3,000 and takes anywhere from 1-4 months). It's a system that only enriches the schools, IMO.

As for Toyota, the view in Japan is that they really screwed up (there's a fairly major recall of Priuses here, which were the basis of Toyota's revenue in the past year), but that they're taking care of the problem. I haven't noticed any widespread anti-US sensationalism to the recall or to Mr. Toyoda's being called to testify in Congress, but some of the more right-wing media outlets are insinuating that the hearings are going to be a replay of the Japan-bashing of the 1980s. Domestically, though, I have the feeling that there won't be any real lasting impact for Toyota unless more details come out or another recall occurs. They'll probably lose some market share to Honda and Nissan, but that's about it.
posted by armage at 5:53 PM on February 23, 2010


I am now quite curious what the safety rates are for manual and automatic transmission automobiles, assuming there is a way to normalize for the difference in their numbers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon


I think it's possible manual drivers may be safer on average, because manual drivers are perhaps more likely to be good drivers. I certainly felt I had more control (and thus sometimes felt safer) on my last car which was a manual. I have no doubt that for the best drivers, they could probably beat automated safety controls (just as they can beat automatic driving for mileage). However the majority of drivers are unlikely to be great drivers, and that's where the real benefits will lie in automated controls. Also computerized safety features can be in manuals as well, stability control, traction control, etc. Certain things like that, braking individual wheels in order to try to prevent crashes, need to be ceded to computers because most people simply can't multitask that well in seconds (not to mention that I've never heard of a car that lets a driver control something like that).
posted by haveanicesummer at 6:44 PM on February 23, 2010


I have one of the recalled 2009 Corollas. I'm hoping they'll let me out of my lease. I notice one very interesting thing about the recalls: all of the affected cars are built in the US. None of the cars built in Japan (such as the Scion) are included in the recal
posted by mike3k at 8:28 PM on February 23, 2010


"Ford's arrogance with the Pinto allowed the Japanese makes to gain a toe-hold into the US market to begin with, and their arrogance with the Explorer rollovers was one small drop in a megatitanic management fiasco that damn near bankrupted the company. "

Nah, It was having the right cars (relatively fuel efficient) at the right time (Oil Embargo) that gave the Japanese a big toe hold.

"I dunno, in a car I could see many people pressing this accidentally and then freaking out when their car turned off. It might be better for you, but for the average driver? Not sure."

Was this a problem before the advent of push button turn on? Because up until that point you had such a device, the ignition switch, and I can't recall accidental activation freak outs being a problem.

"Requiring the button to be held (though 3 seconds seems a bit long) prevents accidental presses from being registered. Last thing you want is someone fiddling on the control panel for a signal or a windshield wiper or something, and hitting the power button."

There are much better ways of implementing this than the 3 second hold down IMO. The least of which would be installing a molly guard though making one that could be operated with winter gloves would kick the challenge up a notch. A bit more involved would be to guard the switch with a mechanical retainer like those found on fire extinguishers or fire alarm pull handles. Proof positive that the E-Stop was pulled and difficult accidental activation.

"I mean, really. Dead simple engineering. Turn on the car and a latching solenoid closes that allows power to flow to whatever electromechanical device is closest to the main power plant (gas or electric or both). The solenoid is wired through a normally closed circuit eStop button. Push the button, the circuit opens, and the solenoid opens, and the car stops producing motive force. Won't close again until you use the 'start' system to restart the car. Simple, failsafe (if the wiring fails, the car simply won't run, which is much better than 'won't stop'), and would have saved hmm... how many lives already?"

This method is needlessly complicated, e-stop should be indipendent of starting the car. Require by law that the e-stop be on the driver's a-pillar. Require that the switch directly interrupt the power to the injectors. Guard the switch as above. This isn't rocket science, we've been doing it in all forms of racing approximately forever.

"Are we seriously talking about making it possible to kill the electronics in a moving vehicle? Have any of you ever tried this? Hint: it's a lot more dangerous than just disengaging the drivetrain. Think no power steering, no power brakes."

One could safely assume people wouldn't activate the switch for shits and giggles any more than they have randomly turned off the ignition in the 100 years prior to the advent of the "feature"

"It should be more of an indictment of drive-by-wire. I can assure you that eventually there will be a drive-by-wire clutch pedal if there isn't already. Same issues."

Automatic shifting manuals are available now.
posted by Mitheral at 9:06 PM on February 23, 2010


Owner Describes Surviving Out Of Control Lexus
"I put the car into all available gears, including neutral," she recalled about her fruitless attempt to slow the car down. Ms. Smith says she even put the car into reverse, in which position the gearshift remained as the car quickly reached a speed of 100mph.

...

Instead, after repeated calls by Ms. Smith, they were sent a 5-sentence letter by Toyota that included the statement:

"When properly maintained, the brakes will always override the accelerator," implying that the cause of her sudden acceleration was a problem of poorly maintained brakes.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:03 AM on February 24, 2010




Correction: he was sentenced to eight years in prison; he has served three.
posted by desjardins at 8:06 PM on February 25, 2010


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