Rockefeller: Toyota should be required to add brake-override systems to all Toyotas in U.S., regardless of vehicle age, cost
UPDATED at 5:26 p.m.
Toyota should be forced to install brake-override systems on all Toyota vehicles currently in the U.S., regardless of how old they are or how much the process will cost, said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), winding up today's long hearing of the Senate Commerce committee.
The U.S. government should also require brake-override systems on all new vehicles sold in the U.S., Rockefeller said.
The committee heard testimony this morning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and from Toyota officials in the afternoon.
"I might say to you that, spread out over the entire fleet, the expense will be substantially less," Rockefeller said. "And I might also say that maybe the expense doesn't matter because these are human beings."
Chief Toyota engineer Takeshi Uchiyamada gave a long response, saying that the company fully understands there is "big room for improvement" and that he "will be standing on the front line working very hard" to fix Toyota's problems. But he did not address Rockefeller's request that Toyota retrofit every one of the millions of its vehicles in the U.S. with a brake-override system, which is meant to halt runaway acceleration.
Earlier today, Edmunds.com, the auto research outfit, e-mailed me a list of all the vehicle makes in the U.S. that already come with brake-override systems, those which do not and those that plan to add them.
According to Edmunds, the makes that DO NOT have override systems are:
-- AM General
-- Ford (will add beginning with 2011 models)
-- Land Rover
-- Lexus (will add beginning with 2011 models)
-- Lincoln (will add beginning with 2011 models)
-- Mercury (will add beginning with 2011 models)
-- Scion (will add beginning with 2011 models)
-- Toyota (will add beginning with 2011 models)
Toyota's Inaba: No one in D.C. office disciplined for $100 Million Memo
4:23 p.m.: Toyota officials testifying before the Senate Commerce committee right now are getting hammered again over the $100 Million Memo and are saying that no one in Toyota's office -- which authored the memo -- has been reprimanded.
Inaba also said no one in Toyota has been disciplined for the company's runaway acceleration and braking problems.
The internal Toyota memo from 2009, obtained under subpoena, bragged to visiting Toyota North America president Yoshimi Inaba that successful "negotiations" with NHTSA avoided a recall of a Toyota vehicle and saved the company $100 million. Toyota got flailed by the memo in House hearings last week, which lawmakers said proved the Japanese auto giant cared more about profit than safety.
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) asked Inaba if anyone in the Washington office had been reprimanded or fired for authoring the memo.
"I have told the Washington office that this is not company policy, that cost comes first and then safety, and affirmed to them that safety comes first," Inaba said. Inaba mentioned to punishment.
Lautenberg then asked if anyone or any unit or division in Toyota has been held responsible or disciplined for the company's vehicle problems, which have led to the recall of 8 million vehicles.
"We take all accidents seriously, especially fatal ones," Inaba said. "But at the same time I don't believe any sort of rule or system that would punish any individual...even if we know the root cause" of the problems, he said.
Inaba repeated what he said last week: That he doesn't remember the memo or the meeting with D.C. Toyota officials in any depth, because he visited the office only days after becoming president. He added today that the D.C. office was probably "trying to impress the new president."
Toyota exec: Company's North American unit lacked authority to issue recalls
3:21 p.m.: Toyota executive Shinichi Sasaki said moments ago in a Senate hearing that Toyota North America did not have the authority to authorize a vehicle recall, despite having first-hand experience with faulty products.
Recalls had to come from Toyota's headquarters in Japan, an admission that backs the U.S. government's assertion that a communication breakdown occurred between the two Toyota hemispheres, leading to a lag on safety issues.
"We realize our old system may have caused some concern or suspicion in the United States," Sasaki said, through an interpreter, saying that a North American representative will now be at Japan's Toyota headquarters.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood testified earlier today before the Senate Commerce committee that the Toyota business model is "broken," saying that Toyota Japan doesn't listen to the opinions of Toyota North America.
Toyota's Inaba: We have fixed 1 million recalled vehicles so far
3:09 p.m.: The Senate Commerce committee's hearing on the Toyota problems has resumed and the current panel includes Toyota executives, including Toyota North America president Yoshimi Inaba.
Inaba testified moments ago that his company has repaired 1 million of the recalled vehicles so far. One million down, only 7 million to go.
Toyota has executed three major recalls since last fall -- two for runaway acceleration problems and one for squishy brakes on its Prius.
Inaba said Toyota last week also extended additional complimentary offers to Toyota owners who are afraid to drive their recalled cars until they get fixed, which presumably means free loaner cars. This is going to get really expensive for Toyota.
Lautenberg: Toyota's responses 'ring hollow'
2:51 p.m.: Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) said that Toyota's response to this crisis sound like they came from a "crisis-management playbook" and that they "ring hollow."
Toyota's chief engineer Takeshi Uchiyamada is testifying right now and he's defending Toyota's electronic engine throttle control system (ECTS), saying it actually makes the cars safer, not more dangerous. NTHSA is testing the system, which some believe to be the cause, or a cause, of the runaway Toyota acceleration. He says:
"While concerns have been raised about our electronic throttle control system, this system – used by all major automakers – actually represents a great safety advancement, enabling superior traction control and electronic stability control, among other things.
The fail‐safe systems in Toyota’s ETCS are robust. Our design includes two separate central processors – a main central processing unit, or “CPU”, and a sub CPU. The two CPUs are both inside the engine control module and they both get the same throttle‐related inputs in parallel from the engine sensor network.
The main, or 'control; CPU calculates and executes the operating commands for all engine systems. The sub CPU monitors throttle control inputs, throttle control outputs, and main CPU processes. A “watch dog signal” passes between the two CPUs many times per second to confirm that the processors are working correctly. If the two CPUs are not in agreement, or either the main or sub CPU does not receive the “watch dog signal”, the engine management system will alert the driver and go into a fail‐safe mode operation."
From testimony Inaba plans to deliver:
"We will ensure that our customers’ voices will be heard and acted upon in a timely manner. In the United States, we will investigate consumer complaints more aggressively by deploying “SWAT teams” of technicians to make on‐site inspections of unintended acceleration reports as quickly as possible. We are establishing the new position of Regional Product Safety Executive, and our North American operations will have more autonomy and decision‐making power with regard to recall and other safety issues. In addition, we will establish a new Automotive Center of Quality Excellence in the U.S., where a team of our top engineers will focus on strengthening our quality control throughout the region."
LaHood: We may considering mandatory brake-override systems on new vehicles
2:15 p.m.: The Transportation Department is considering a number of potential new rules for autos sold in the U.S., including the possibility of requiring automakers to include brake-override systems in new cars sold here, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in Senate testimony this morning.
The Senate Commerce committee is taking its turn grilling Transportation and Toyota officials today, following last week's hearings in the House. LaHood just finished his comments. Toyota North America president Yoshimi Inaba is scheduled to appear later this afternoon.
Committee chairman Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) pressed LaHood on the brake-override system. Such a system, which Toyota said last month it would voluntarily install on new models going forward, cuts off the acceleration if the brakes are applied while the car is accelerating. It is intended to stop the sort of runaway acceleration reported by a number of Toyota drivers and which spurred the recall of millions of vehicles.
LaHood said his agency is considering the requirement that a brake-override system be installed on all new vehicles, not just Toyotas. Such as process, however, would be lengthy and would involve negotiation with automakers, as it would add cost to the production of new vehicles. Automakers surely will argue that the runaway acceleration is a highly rare event, when compared to the millions of vehicles sold each year in the U.S., and often is the result of driver error, not vehicle failure.
LaHood: Toyota's business model is broken
11:49 a.m.: Today it's the Senate's turn to take a crack at NHTSA and Toyota officials over the Japanese automaker's recent recall problems.
The Senate commerce committee is questioning Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood right now, and Toyota North America President Yoshimi Inaba is due up this afternoon.
LaHood repeated something he said in House hearings last week but this time stated it more bluntly: "Toyota's business model is broken."
He's referring not specifically to quality problems, but communication problems between Toyota North America and Toyota headquarters in Japan. LaHood said that Toyota North America has "good, quality people" who were raising early warnings about runaway acceleration in Toyota vehicles here but that those warnings fell on deaf ears back in Japan.
NHTSA has mined its driver complaint database and this morning released the following data:
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March 2, 2010; 5:26 PM ET
Categories: Autos , Congress , Corporations , The Ticker | Tags: Ray LaHood, Toyota problems, toyota, toyota congressional hearings, toyota recall model and years
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