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Toyota Bullied Auto Professor and University on Sudden Acceleration Problem

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Jim Suhr has reported for the Associated Press that Toyota bullied automotive professor David Gilbert and Southern Illinois University over Gilbert’s investigation of Toyota’s sudden acceleration recall.

My readers should recall that Professor Gilbert was featured on ABC news and recreated an electrical glitch that could cause sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. [You can view the ABC News report at my previous Toyota sudden acceleration post.]

After demonstrating the electronic glitch, Toyota unleashed its vast resources and an unlimited budget toward attacking Professor Gilbert and SIU, where Gilbert teaches. Toyota gave an unlimited budget to its hired gun – Exponent – to use attacking Professor Gilbert. Exponent’s testing was designed and paid for by Toyota’s litigation defense lawyers for the sole purpose of attacking Professor Gilbert. Toyota was clearly more concerned about protecting itself rather than its drivers.

After Toyota’s doctored lawyered tests, a panel of leading auto safety experts discussed potential causes of Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem and refuted Toyota’s claims.

More details of Toyota’s dirty tricks keep coming to light. Toyota developed a public relations campaign to attack the credibility of Professor Gilbert and other key witnesses. Toyota tried to have Professor Gilbert fired from his position at Southern Illinois University and threatened to withhold funding and support from the university.

Jim Suhr at the Associated Press tracked down the actual emails showing Toyota’s threats:

Within days, a product-liability attorney representing Toyota said company attorneys wanted to meet with Gilbert and university officials to discuss Gilbert’s use of donated Toyota vehicles and "related matters."


At the meeting four days later, Gilbert said, the visitors pressed him to justify his testimony — something he refused to do, saying he stood by his sworn statements to Congress.

Gilbert, who owns a Toyota Tundra pickup, believes the meeting "was meant to maybe intimidate me."

The pressure on [Gilbert] continued to build. On March 8, Mark Thompson — identifying himself as an SIU alum and, without elaboration, a Toyota Motor Sales employee — voiced in an e-mail to the university’s then-chancellor, Sam Goldman, his "great concern and disappointment" about Gilbert. Thompson said he was "deeply disturbed" by what he called Gilbert’s false accusations about the automaker.

Thompson reminded Goldman that he and Toyota regularly contributed to the university — including a $100,000 check to the auto-tech program in late 2008 — and "due to the outstanding reputation of your automotive technology program has, we donate much more than money," including cars.

"I ask you why your organization allows such activities to be performed by one of your professors and most importantly allowed to be reported to the media in a false manner," Thompson wrote. "I believe he should not be an employee of our fine university."

Toyota tried to extort an American university in order to cover up independent research demonstrating Toyota’s sudden acceleration defect. Toyota’s baseless attacks on Professor Gilbert and its attempt to extort Southern Illinois University because of Professor Gilbert’s important research are despicable. Unfortunately, Toyota’s despicable conduct is far too common. For more than a decade, when Toyota has been given an opportunity to do the right thing and actually try to fix the deadly sudden acceleration problem, Toyota has repeatedly chosen to cover up the defect with lie after lie after lie.

It’s time that Toyota is held accountable.