After years of stonewalling and attempted coverups, we’ve learned that a top Toyota official finally warned the company that "We need to come clean" about sudden acceleration problems several days before Toyota finally announced that massive recall that has only partially solved the many causes of sudden acceleration.
We already knew that Toyota warned European drivers about Toyota’s "sticky" pedal problem before warning the United States.
From the Associated Press:
From the Detroit Free Press:
WASHINGTON — Toyota’s top U.S. public relations executive warned his superiors in January that the automaker needed to "come clean" about sticking accelerator pedals that could trigger sudden acceleration, and that the company "was not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet."
The e-mail from Irv Miller came five days before Toyota launched a recall of 2.3 million vehicles in the United States to fix pedals that were slow to return to normal. The Obama administration said earlier this week that Toyota had hid the problem from U.S. auto safety officials for months before the recall, and slapped Toyota with a $16.4 million fine, the largest ever for a vehicle recall.
In the e-mail obtained by the Free Press, Toyota vice president of environmental and public affairs Irv Miller tells a colleague that "WE HAVE A tendency for MECHANICAL failure in accelerator pedals," using capital letters for emphasis.
"We are not protecting our customers by keeping this quiet. The time to hide on this one is over," Miller wrote on Jan. 16
In a statement Toyota declined to comment directly on Miller’s email.
The executive – Irv Miller – drafted the email on January 16, 2010 as Toyota officials were en route to Washington D.C. to discuss the sudden acceleration problem with federal safety regulators. Toyota did not actual begin its recall for "sticky" accelerator pedals until January 21, 2010. The Free Press notes that Irv Miller has since "retired" from the company. Surprised?
Toyota’s conduct has been so egregious that the U.S. hit Toyota with the largest fine permissible under the law – $16.4 million (or about $1.50 for each vehicle that Toyota recalled so far). Are you a Toyota owner? Are you outraged at Toyota’s conduct?
Are you not a Toyota owner? How do you feel about Toyota putting your life at risk also? Are you outraged that Toyota would attempt to hide a dangerous safety defect from the public and safety regulators for months or even years? I am.
To date, there have been more than 100 confirmed sudden acceleration deaths. Why are those in power seemingly "ok" with Toyota’s conscious, calculated decision to put profits over safety by hiding a "dangerous defect" that Toyota knew was killing people?
If Toyota was willing to try and cover up and lie about the "sticky" pedal problem, what else is Toyota lying about?
Do you think Toyota would lie about electronic causes of the sudden acceleration problem?
Toyota has spent millions of dollars trying to convince the public that electronics are not a cause of Toyota’s sudden acceleration defect. However, a panel of leading experts, including the former head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ("NHTSA"), held a press conference last week to refute Toyota’s claims that electronics play no role in Toyota’s sudden acceleration problem.
You can view the entire press conference here.
Last week, safety experts found a "smoking gun" Toyota document from 2002 where Toyota identified electronic problems that caused "engine surge" in its 2002 Camry vehicles. We also learned last week that federal safety investigators asked Toyota in 2007 to install software that would prevent sudden acceleration.
Toyota’s focus on PR, market share and profits rather than on safety and actually fixing the deadly sudden acceleration problem is both disturbing and disappointing. Rather than focusing on a solution to the sudden acceleration crisis, Toyota has remained steadfastly focused on protecting its image rather than protecting its drivers. Toyota continues to put market share and profits ahead of safety and human life.
Toyota went so far as to create internal company documents bragging about how Toyota "wins" when safety loses. In fact, Toyota bragged about saving more than $100 million when it used its special interest lobbyists — former NHTSA safety officials hired by Toyota — to avoid a sudden acceleration recall in 2007. Only a month after Toyota’s bragging document was produced, a family of four was killed when their Lexus vehicle accelerated out of control in California.
When automotive professor, David Gilbert, created a test that showed Toyota’s electronics could cause sudden unintended acceleration, Toyota’s litigation defense lawyers used an "unlimited budget" to buy testing designed solely to discredit Professor Gilbert’s test (a test that Toyota officials admitted to Congress that Toyota had been able to reproduce).
Toyota engineers did not develop a test to see if they correct the design flaw that permitted electronically induced acceleration. Rather, Toyota’s defense lawyers used hired guns to discredit an independent automotive professor that dared to challenge Toyota’s public statements.
Throughout the sudden acceleration time line, one thing has been consistent: Toyota has consistently misled the public about the nature and severity of the Toyota sudden acceleration problem. When given the opportunity to come forward with information, Toyota has chosen lie after lie after lie.
You can view the time line of Toyota’s checkered safety history here.
Toyota has a well-documented history of attempted cover-ups of safety problems. The Detroit Free Press has documented how Toyota has stonewalled the investigation of these problems since at least 2003.
After dragging its feet and being called "safety deaf" on the sudden acceleration recall, Toyota did it again when Toyota knew of the problems with its Prius brakes long before warning its drivers, customers and innocent motorists. Not only are the multiple Toyota recalls hurting consumers, they are hurting rental car companies as well.
Now, Toyota has said its own data recorders are not reliable. What are these black boxes saying that has Toyota withholding this evidence. If these black boxes said that drivers were hitting the gas pedal instead of the brake, you know Toyota would be holding these black boxes up in front of every television camera and microphone in the country. What else is Toyota covering up?
It’s time that the public finally hold Toyota accountable for putting profits over safety and money over lives.
Brett Emison is currently a partner at Langdon & Emison, a firm dedicated to helping injured victims across the country from their primary office near Kansas City. Mainly focusing on catastrophic injury and death cases as well as complex mass tort and dangerous drug cases, Mr. Emison often deals with automotive defects, automobile crashes, railroad crossing accidents (train accidents), trucking accidents, dangerous and defective drugs, defective medical devices.