Toyota Becomes #1 Automaker Again; Agrees to Pay $1.1 Billion for Unintended Acceleration
[Ed.: Originally posted December 27, 2012]
In what is surely a week of mixed news for Toyota Motor Corporation, the company is on track to regain its title as the world’s largest automaker by volume; Toyota also announced it will pay out $1.1 billion to settle “unintended acceleration” cases in the United States.
Toyota lost its worldwide sales domination in 2011, when they were overtaken by General Motors in the aftermath of the Tohoku tsunami that disrupted production in March. Despite a boycott by many Chinese consumers of Japanese products (due to a land dispute over the Diaoyu Islands) and ongoing unintended acceleration lawsuits, Toyota is set to end this year with a staggering 9.7 million autos sold, according to CNN Money; GM will come in second with 9.3 million sold. Although Volkswagen has heavily revised its product offerings to gun for the #1 spot (especially in America), it will close out the year in third at 9 million.
On the other hand, Toyota has agreed to pay out a total of $1.1 billion to settle claims of “unintended acceleration” in the United States. The term itself refers to vehicles that can accelerate independent of, and against, the operator’s inputs. Drivers complained that the models, which included almost every Toyota vehicle and a few Lexus, would ignore drivers when the brake pedal was depressed and would instead accelerate forward. UA was presumed to have been the cause of multiple fatal and non-fatal accidents from 2009-2011.
It is odd that after more than two years of research conducted by both plaintiffs and defendant and mere months before trial dates would begin, Toyota has agreed to pay an incredible amount of money for, as Automedia puts it, “a company that didn’t do anything wrong. ” Indeed, past investigations by both the NHTSA and NASA have concluded that driver error, or the misapplication of the acceleration pedal, was the main cause behind UA.
Initially, driver error was believed to have been caused by ill-fitting floor mats that could, in the course of normal driving, shift over the gas pedal and not let it return to a closed position once a driver released the pedal. Even after the vehicles in question had been recalled and revised mats had been affixed, Toyota still found itself inundated with complaints. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and experts from NASA began examining data logs from recovered vehicles; in almost every instance, the accelerator had been pinned immediately prior to each crash. This suggested that simple pedal confusion in a crisis situation had been the source of the accidents, not the result of computer glitches on the Toyota’s end.
The accelerator and brake pedals’ position relative to each other was offered as a possible reason for the accidents, or perhaps the way the fly-by-wire system worked. In any case, Toyota introduced a braking system wherein if both pedals are pressed at the same time, the engine is shut off. This prevents heel-and-toe racing techniques, but since nobody exactly goes lapping a Camry at Road Atlanta, this is practically a non-issue.
Despite its efforts to correct what appears to be driver error, Toyota was named the defendant in a class-action lawsuit against irate customers. The $1.1 billion payout, as noted, is a huge sum for a company that didn’t do anything inherently wrong, but it’s small change for the new largest automaker in the world.