Oh how the media loves to knock down the mighty from their perches of personal entitlement once they sense the slightest hint of weakness. A case in point, of course, is the recent mud-slinging and shrill, alarmist shrieking directed at Toyota Motor Company thanks to its now infamous gas pedal recall.
Instead of using concrete facts or the thoughts of highly experienced technical engineers, most media outlets are basing their conclusions on the thoughts of “consumer activists” more interested in selling their books or politicians looking to further their careers by stomping on the backs of Toyota North America employees. For every honest investigation into some of the clear wrong-doings on the part of the Japan-based manufacturer, there are at least five news stories whose aim is simply to regurgitate unproven or untrue information.
Does no one realize that every car maker gets complaints of unintended acceleration from consumers and many times it winds up actually being the fault of a driver who either got confused as to which pedal they pressed or their shoe just got caught in the pedal box controls? It happens every day in accidents across this country in all types of cars from all types of automakers.
Just ask Audi who saw its sales plummet to near zero in the mid-1980’s after 60 Minutes erroneously reported that their models were accelerating through garage doors with no provocation. It turns out the Audi 5000 sedans in question just had pedals that were closer together than drivers new to the car were used to (yet were in safe specification by all safety and government standards) thereby causing the “mystery” acceleration. After the damage was well and truly done 60 Minutes finally recanted their story.
Make no mistake, however, there is a definite flaw with the design of the gas pedal on myriad Toyota models and executives (but very few employees) knew of this long before it became a big news story. The size and scope of this recall is a very real news story that should be reported as should Toyota’s unprecedented willingness to shut down all of their operations until the problem is fixed.
But now any accident involving even non-recalled Toyota vehicles is being thrust into the media spotlight. A local Southern California TV news station recently reported about an accident back in 2005 where an 05 Camry (not a recalled model) went through the retaining wall by a coastal restaurant and plunged into the ocean, killing a woman. This TV station merely replayed their report from five years ago and added the tag line, “has the Toyota acceleration problem been going on for longer than we thought?”
In this report there was no evidence of a complaint by the family of unintended acceleration, that this accident was being investigated by any government agency or that this was just anything other than an excuse for them to replay juicy video footage of a crushed Camry at the bottom of a 70 foot cliff. This is media hubris and laziness at its most foul.
Tomorrow Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, the highly gregarious, blunt and car-savvy grandson of the founder of Toyota, is going to speak before Congress. What, exactly, is the point of this political grandstanding other than for utterly clueless Washington D.C. political hacks to try and scold the Chairman of an internationally successful Japanese auto company in front of the American public? Will they mention the fact that the majority of the “covering up” of this recall was done by American NHTSA employees themselves?
If any of the Congressional Hearing leaders have done their homework they will realize a man like Akio Toyoda (who recently called his own company’s model lineup “boring”) is not going to cow-tow to their every deluded demand and fall on his sword “hari-kari” style. He is highly intelligent, witty and races Formula 1 cars for fun. Do you really think he is going to be intimidated by a bunch of Congressman who are using this media opportunity to appear tough and not get voted out of office by their constituents come the November elections?
As far as automakers go Toyota is doing all it can as fast as it can in the present time. It is shameful that some corporate executives saw fit to act in collusion with the Government-run NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) to cover up evidence of unintended acceleration. But this is not something only Toyota has ever been guilty of. It is a practice that has gone on for decades perhaps most famously during the exploding Ford Pinto fiasco on the 1970’s.
Despite talk of other Toyota recalls (both of which were relatively minor in scale and very normal for auto manufacturers to experience in a given year) Toyota still makes high quality cars, trucks and SUVs. The same day Toyota announced their Prius brake recall, Honda announced they were recalling 140,000 Fit models due to a fire hazard. There was very little media coverage of the Fit recall because that problem wouldn’t have gotten as good a ratings score on the nightly news. The truth is as simple as that.
So before you decide to go into cardiac arrest each time you step foot into your Toyota why don’t you just call your local dealer and get set-up to have the recall work taken care of. If you don’t feel safe driving your car call Toyota’s customer service hotline number in your owner’s manual and tell them so. This is a company that cares about their customers. You just have to give them a chance to prove it to you.