Toyota livid over confidential document aired on CNN

On March 1, CNN's evening news magazine Anderson Cooper 360 reported that a document it had obtained showed engineers from Toyota Motor Corporation had discovered an electronics problem that caused sudden unintended acceleration in a preproduction Lexus.

The 2006 document—labeled "confidential"—was never turned over to government investigators at the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration. NHTSA later investigated accelerator problems in Toyota vehicles and concluded—as Toyota had—that the causes were not electronic, but rather sticky gas pedals, bad floor mats, and driver error.

Three automotive experts cited in the broadcast (and also quoted in a CNN investigative article) agreed that the document raised serious questions about Toyota's explanation, and should have been turned over to the government.

Michael Pecht, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Maryland, told the network: "This looks like an example of electronics causing a car to suddenly accelerate."

In an angry response posted on its website, Toyota rebuked CNN for "irresponsibly" airing a "grossly inaccurate" story. "Exhaustive investigations undertaken by some of the most respected engineers and scientific institutions in America—including NASA, NHTSA and the National Academy of Sciences—have thoroughly debunked this worn-out fabrication," the automaker said.

The company pointed to what it deemed two major flaws in CNN's report. First, it took issue with the English translation of the document from the original Japanese. It focused in particular on the rendering of "sudden unintended acceleration." It should really be "starts out on its own," Toyota argued.

The second problem with the CNN story, according to Toyota, was the nature of the test itself. The test was "intentionally designed to artificially simulate a failed accelerator pedal sensor." The purpose was to demonstrate that the car's electronics functioned to correct the problem and prevent the car from accelerating, the company's statement said.

Moreover, Toyota emphasized, the document described a condition that was intentionally induced and "has never existed in any vehicle ever produced or sold by Toyota anywhere in the world."

CNN included a full airing of Toyota's reaction in its report, which included an on-camera interview with a Toyota engineer. In response to the company's criticism of the translation, the network commissioned two additional independent translations that basically confirmed the first.

Neil Hanneman, described as "an independent automobile safety engineer," told CNN that Toyota did indeed have an electronics issue. "This is a tangible, repeatable, fixable issue that they've identified in this vehicle," Hanneman said. "It's related to software issues, which is something Toyota has said is infallible in their systems."

A print version of the story that CNN posted on its website included a letter that Christopher Reynolds, general counsel of Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc., sent to CNN GC Louise Sams. Dated February 22, the five-and-a-half page letter attempts to refute virtually everything that Toyota expected would be in the broadcast.

In his second paragraph, Reynolds suggests that media outlets like CNN are being used as "tools" by "a group of trial lawyers suing Toyota for money and their paid advocates." Reynolds returns to this theme at the end of his broadside.

"CNN is part of and party to an attempt by lawyers suing Toyota for money to manufacture doubt about the safety of Toyota's vehicles in the absence of any scientific evidence whatsoever," he writes.

"Toyota reserves the right," he concludes, "to take any and every appropriate step to protect and defend the reputation of our company and its products from irresponsible and inaccurate claims."

(Published by Law - March 5, 2012)

latest top stories

subscribe |  contact us |  sponsors |  migalhas in portuguese |  migalhas latinoamérica