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Toyota Facing an Audi-like Media Firestorm


AUTO CENTRAL - January 27, 2010: About a quarter of a century ago, Audi sales and reputation in the North American market were crushed by accusations that depressing the brake pedal on Audi 5000 cars caused the vehicle to accelerate. Consumer and consumer-watchdog hysteria peaked after “60 MINUTES” showed faked footage of an Audi 5000 experiencing this "unintended acceleration."

Independent investigation concluded there was no mechanical problem, and that it was most likely driver error, partially due to drivers not paying attention to the closer placement of the accelerator and brake pedals in the Audi cars versus American cars, that was at fault.

The damage to Audi was so great that the company considered pulling out of the market altogether, following Fiat, Alfa, Renault and Peugeot’s withdrawal from America in preceding years.

A few months ago similar allegations of unintended acceleration began to surface about Toyota vehicles. At first the problem was diagnosed as having been caused by oversized floormats that, when shifted by normal movement of the driver’s foot, become jammed against the accelerator so that in the act of braking the floormat also pushes on the gas pedal. Toyota responded by recalling the floormats.

However, in recent days and weeks the issue has again resurfaced and Toyota sales are plummeting, making an already bad auto sales economy even worse for Toyota dealers. Adding to the confusion are the lawsuits that have been filed by the ever present over-supply of ambulance chasers, unsolicited advice from professional "grief-counselors" who are looking for their piece of the pie, and now there are additional accusations (that are not directly tied to the acceleration mystery) by other groups who have gone so far as to brand Toyota “A Danger to America.” It seems that this is a good season to pile-on Toyota and perhaps extract a bit of retribution for Toyota’s past decisions to open plants in non-traditional automaking states and/or by closing existing facilities such as the NUMMI plant in Northern California.

In any event, the maelstrom has come together to create a perfect storm to knock Toyota off it’s perch as the number one car maker even though they continue to make (under all of their brands) many of the best vehicles in the world.

Toyota is temporarily halting production of new vehicles and has initiated new recalls today on eight different models to try and figure out what is going wrong and how to fix it, if it is indeed a manufacturers’ defect and not operator error. So far as we know neither CBS nor NBC have fabricated video footage of any Toyotas running out of control