A recent article in the LA Times reviews several incidents in which Toyota has failed to properly disclose safety information to the public or take prompt action regarding the safety of their vehicles. Toyota has been a reputable brand for many years; known for high safety standards of their vehicles. However, in the past few months, the company has come crashing down from its pedestal.
The sudden acceleration problem, a recent hot-button issue, has caused several other safety incidents to rise to the surface. The trouble with acceleration involves Toyota and Lexus vehicles accelerating suddenly and spontaneously, clearly posing a severe danger and causing several deaths. The situation became most recognized when an off-duty California Highway Patrol Officer and three family members were killed in a crash involving sudden acceleration. Toyota has credited the problem to accelerators becoming caught on floor mats, and has denied any further electronic defect. However, the most shocking aspect of the acceleration problem is that the company has apparently been aware of the issue for the past decade and eight recalls involving the problem have taken place. Several lawsuits have ended in settlements involving confidentiality clauses, clearly indicating that Toyota does not wish for the public to become aware of safety issues.
Other situations involve safety issues with Toyota vehicles that occur in other countries. The company will issue a recall in that country, but fails to take action in the US, claiming that there is no evidence of a problem, even though the same vehicles and parts are involved. One such situation involved a recall in Japan in 2004 due to a crash caused by a broken steering linkage. The same linkage was used in three US models, but the company did not issue a recall because they claimed they were not aware of problems here. However, documents in four lawsuits reveal the company had received numerous complaints since 2000. Also, a tragically fatal crash took place in 2003. A Japanese investigation discovered that the company knew about the problem since 1992. A recall should have taken place immediately and Toyota’s lack of responsibility is appalling!
Sienna minivans have also been problematic. Toyota engineers discovered a problem with a plastic panel in 2003 that could come loose and cause the gas pedal to stick. The problem was fixed in 2004 models, yet those who had already purchased the defective models were not informed of the problem. Only in January, nearly six YEARS after the problem was discovered, did a recall take place.
In 1994, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fined Toyota $250,000 for failing to provide proper information about a fuel leak in Land Cruisers. The company did not issue a recall until two years after the problem became apparent. They denied withholding information from the NHTSA.
Yet another problem involves rollovers of Toyota-made forklifts. The company has been found to fail to provide evidence repetitively. A former Toyota lawyer is suing the company and has accused the automaker of "engaging in a "calculated conspiracy to prevent the disclosure of damaging evidence" as part of a scheme to "prevent evidence of its vehicles’ structural shortcomings from becoming known" to plaintiffs lawyers, courts, NHTSA and the public." Time and time again, Toyota has failed to take responsibility for the safety of their own product. They have blamed reported malfunctions on human error, settled cases with a non-disclosure agreements, and failed to make information available. It is clear that Toyota does not want to make their problems known to the public. This is a clear lack of responsibility to the safety of their customers and all others sharing the road! Their manner of handling problems is absurd. The automaker deserves to be severely reprimanded, and whether or not they are suited to conduct business is questionable.
These incidents just go to show that without the tort system in place, there never will be any accountability. In my opinion, you simply cannot count on manufacturers to do the right thing. For some manufacturers the only thing that seems to motivate them to do the right thing is a lawsuit, or the fear of one.