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Posted by: David Kiley on September 30, 2009
Toyota yesterday instructed 3.8 million vehicle owners to take the floor mats out of their cars, trucks and SUVs.
News reports to the contrary, Toyota is officially calling this a “safety advisory” and says it has not yet issued a recall. But it’s more like a directive in real life.
“Sudden Acceleration” is the reason for the action. It turns out there have been a few cases of people suddenly accelerating out of control with some fatal consequences because the mat got caught up in the accelerator pedal.
“Sudden Acceleration” is a scary terrible phrase in the auto industry. Worse than “gas taxes” to American drivers. Audi took a beating in the late 1980s and 1990s after CBS’s Sixty Minutes gave a spotlight to some trial lawyers whose clients had claimed “sudden acceleration” was to blame for some accidents. Audi issued denials. But the story dragged on. Investigations were done. There was never any finding that a design or engineering flaw in an Audi was to blame. Yet, enormous damage was done to Audi sales and the brand. It has only been in the last five years or so that people have let the false charges of sudden acceleration drift into the archives of their memories.
Today, Audi vehicles are world-class competitors to Mercedes, BMW and Lexus, and the brand is one of the fastest growing in the category worldwide.
Toyota has had some recalls for engine sludge, bad ball joints, etc. Its own management has admitted that it grew too fast, especially in the U.S., and took its eye off the ball in terms of quality amidst all that growth.
The last thing the company needed to do in this sales-challenged economy was deny any responsibility. And easy for them, all they have to do is tell the owners to take the factory-issued mats out of the vehicles. My belief is that while it is the single biggest “directive” of its kind, the act of dealing with it straight-up will be a plus for Toyota. Even better would be if they came up with a fix to the problem: anchored mats. Then, they could give everybody nice clean, new mats that don’t bunch up.
I have to straighten out the mats in my own cars from time to time because they ride up into the pedal area. It’s common sense. But assuming common sense is wide spread is a dangerous thing to do.
Now, the search goes on to see what company has the smartest mat design that prevents the problem. Then, let every automaker copy that good design, eh?
Want the straight scoop on the auto industry? Detroit bureau chief David Welch , Dexter Roberts and Ian Rowley bring daily scoop, keen observations and provocative perspective on the auto business from around the globe. Read their take on such weighty issues as Detroit’s attempt at a comeback, Toyota’s quest for dominance and the search for an efficient car.