Government reports released last week found no electronics-based cause of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The news seemed to give the world's largest automaker a chance to restore its battered reputation for safety and quality.

But the twin reports -- one from NASA and the other from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration -- aren't themselves enough to end the fallout from two big recalls involving Toyota and Lexus vehicles that suddenly accelerate out of control. Toyota Motor (TM) last year recalled about 8 million cars worldwide, most of them in the U.S., to fix sticky gas pedals and to prevent accelerators from catching on rubber floor mats.

Very Little Impact at Trial

Toyota's bungled handling of those and one other recall led to a record $48.8 million in fines by the federal government. The media blitz that accompanied the recalls, which included high-profile TV coverage of several congressional hearings, drove down sales in the U.S. and led to numerous lawsuits, including two class actions alleging economic loss now being waged in U.S. District Court in California.

In a statement last week, Toyota said it hoped the studies' findings would "put to rest unsupported speculation" about its electronic throttle control system and its potential as a source for unintended acceleration. But whether the results prove enough to give Toyota a leg up in its legal battles remains to be seen.

Toyota, obviously, is happier with the outcome than if the government had been able to find some link to electronics, says Steven Goldberg, law professor at Pace University.

Nevertheless, "it's very hard to assess whether this will have much effect," Goldberg says. The finding is likely to have very little impact at trial, though "It might have effect on settlement and it might have effect on the opinions of people in the jury pool," he says.

Further, a government report isn't infallible. In releasing the findings last week, NASA lead engineer Michael Kirsch said he couldn't rule out electronics entirely. Rather, he said, they aren't likely the source of unintended acceleration. The reports also don't absolve Toyota of the problems that led to the recalls in the first place: bulky rubber floor mats and sticky gas pedals.

Not Cleared From All Wrongdoing

Plenty of people still have lawsuits pending because of those and other issues besides electronics, says David Sullivan analyst with AutoPacific, a California-based research firm. The reports may allow Toyota to more easily reconcile issues with some people, he says, "but it doesn't exonerate them of all wrongdoing yet."

Further, Sullivan says, the news isn't likely to aid Toyota sales this year as it seeks to recover from a lackluster year in the U.S. in 2010. Part of Toyota's problem is that its lineup of cars is aging, including two of its high-volume, bread-and-butter passenger cars: the Camry and Corolla sedans. Newer models introduced by Ford Motor (F), Hyundai Motor and General Motors (GM) are far superior to the Camry and Corolla, he says.

Toyota has also done a less-than-stellar job in the court of public opinion. In the days immediately following the recalls last year, company President Akio Toyoda refused to take questions from the media before eventually making several tearful apologies for his company's lapses.

Denial Mode


"I think Toyota blew it early on," says Paul Kurnit, clinical professor of marketing, also at Pace University. Acting not unlike a deer caught in headlights, Toyota management went into denial mode, he says.

Kurnit says despite its mishandling of the recalls, Toyota still enjoys a large, loyal customer base. "This absolution is likely only to be good for sales," he says, adding that the automaker shouldn't gloat about the reports' findings. "Just stay the course and keep tending and attending to quality."

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123 Comments

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patyrow

Must Be Waltrip supporters --they own most of the stock -------Cool hand are you sure about your research ??

February 24 2011 at 1:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Cool Hand

I agree, Zeke, but everytime the word "Toyota" appears in the headline, the bashers emerge. What amazes me is that they appear to be blind to the fact that Toyota built about 1.5 million vehicles in North America last year, spent $25 billion dollars with American parts manufacturers, have a $23 billion dollar infrastructure that pays heavy American taxes, and employ about 35,000 workers here in the production facilities. That doesn't count the dealerships. And those workers all pay U.S. income taxes, property taxes, school taxes, sales taxes, etc. But all we hear from the knuckleheads is "don't buy that foreign crap. Keep the jobs in the US". I'd wager that most of those Toyota workers pay more to the US government than most of the anti-Toyota posters.
And I didn't even touch on the number of Americans who own Toyota stock...

February 17 2011 at 9:43 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
zekentoby

I guess AOL was kidding about the off-topic comments. The article was about Toyota's electronics not being at fault for the supposed runaway cars, but the discussion seems to only be about the pros and cons of foreign auto companies, though most of the "Foreign" companies are now fully American car makers.

February 16 2011 at 6:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
teischen

Japs cap imports at 2% of 8 million. Out of the 2%, US is allows 40,000.
Korea caps us at 3,500 with a 8% terriff and tax aduit for the buyer. (WTO report)
Big O did get a new trade agreement this year of 2011, Korea will allow 25,000 import for each of the big 3, this includes Dodge(FIAT)

February 16 2011 at 10:58 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
nynwait

Dear Mr, Schepp,
This is an ongoing problem I am having with my 2011 XLE Camry.
.The event has occurred to both my wife and me. The Toyota dealership has tested the car 3 times, but they have not been able to duplicate the problem. I am convinced they are not performing the tests according to the failure mode I have presented. The letter below is the 4th letter sent to Toyota . Two letters to Toyota Engineering have NEVER been answered or acknowledged

14 February 2011
Toyota Motor Sales
19001 South Western Ave
Dept WC11
Torrance, CA 90501
RE Case # 1012211566
Dear Sir,
I am deeply disappointed by the test results of that 6 mile test making turns, and claiming there was nothing wrong with the car.
Driving 6 miles, making turns proves nothing. There is a specific set of circumstances I described. It has nothing to do with mileage or specifically, turns.
The failure occurs during a deceleration and an application of the accelerator at low speeds.
It appears that when the accelerator is applied during a shift point, there’s a point in that sequence that causes a conflict in the computer, causing it to stop sending signals to the injectors.
All events have taken place at low speeds, usually at intersections, but not limited to them, that have no stop signs, but require a slow-down before entering or continuing.
Left turns seemed to be the problem, but subsequent failures during right turns and straight-aways, have narrowed the failure mode to be a combination of deceleration and application of the accelerator .AT LOW SPEEDS and SHIFT POINTS.

Francis J. Iaria

February 16 2011 at 10:13 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to nynwait's comment
zekentoby

Unfortunatelt, we've all heard of someone having problems that a dealer couldn't replicate. Any mechanic can tell you stories like this.

February 16 2011 at 6:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zekentoby

Oops, unfortunately.

February 16 2011 at 6:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
papaed20

After WW -II all of the axis countries that our men fought against got bail outs from the US to rebuild their factories more high tech than our own , while we let our own companies go under ( i.e. Packard , Studebaker , Willys , Douglas aircraft and more ) which built war machines faster and better than the axis , for the dumb sh***ts that don't know it . now we play into their hands . By the way look up AXIs !!

February 16 2011 at 5:48 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
steve

Hard fot me to believe people would not think to shove it in nuteral before letting a car take them to high speed crashes

February 16 2011 at 3:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to steve's comment
hchevy

They are toyota owners after all.

February 16 2011 at 6:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zekentoby

You're referring to common sense, which is no longer common. Besides, that'd make it tougher to sue.

February 16 2011 at 6:46 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
mdmichel8888

heres an option.........if foreign car companies don't like the way we run things here in the US, then don't come here and sell your foreign garbage in the US

BUY AMERICAN!!!!!!!!

February 16 2011 at 1:41 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
jamesdavidcrane

Funny how the Toyota "crisis" was taking place during the bankruptcy of GM and Chrysler... Anybody else find this coincidence interesting?

February 15 2011 at 10:29 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to jamesdavidcrane's comment
g974

I have bought only Toyotas for the last 23 years. Before that I had a '71 Celica that I kept for 17 years. They are not the sexiest or most sporty cars but they hold up and they are safe! I bought a high end GM product in '85 and had major problems with it every year that I owned it. Sold it in '93 and bought a used Camry. Sold the Camry in 2009 with 320,000 miles on it and it is STILL running! No Detroit junk for me.

February 15 2011 at 10:19 PM Report abuse -7 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to g974's comment