Section 3. Recommitment to Quality
Item 1. Expansion of Recalls
Voluntary Remedies and Recalls
On August 28, 2009, a Lexus ES 350 that a dealer in San Diego, California, in the United States, provided to a customer as a loaner vehicle went out of control on the highway, collided with an embankment, and caught fire. An off-duty highway patrol officer and three members of his family perished in the accident. It was ultimately determined that the cause of the accident was the use of all-weather floor mats for a different vehicle; the mats did not fit properly, were not secured and the accelerator pedal became entrapped in a wide-open position by one of the mats’ position. The accident was widely reported in the mass media, including the playing of a recording of a phone call made by mobile phone from the car to the police seeking assistance just before the crash. Speculation began almost immediately that there was something wrong with the electronic throttle control system in Toyota vehicles.
In late September, after an investigation of the San Diego accident and discussions with NHTSA, Toyota decided to conduct a recall to make changes to many of its vehicles to lessen the chance of accelerator entrapment by the floor mat. Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. (TMS) issued a Consumer Safety Advisory on September 29, 2009 warning customers about the dangers of improper and unsecured floor mats, and on October 5 notified NHTSA of its intention to write to customers in the United States also asking them to remove floor mats from the driver’s side of their vehicles until the recall modification was developed and completed. The mailing of this interim notice to customers began on October 30, 2009.
Eight vehicle series, including the Lexus ES 350, Camry, and Prius, were initially subject to the recall, with more added at later dates. The floor mats were replaced, the configuration of accelerator pedals was modified, and on some models, the shape of the floor surface was changed.1The number of vehicles subject to the recall reached 4.26million in the United States and 6.1million including Canada and the rest of the world. While Toyota and NHTSA focused on the risk of floor mat entrapment, media speculation about a possible electronic throttle control problem continued.
Late that year, a new issue, a slow-to-return or “sticky” accelerator pedal, previously only duplicated in Europe, was duplicated in some US vehicles. The problem seemed to be that water from condensation caused components of certain accelerator pedal units to adhere to each other, preventing the pedal from operating properly. TMC announced on January 21, 2010 a recall in the United States of eight vehicle series, including leading models such as the Corolla, RAV4, and Camry. The affected accelerator pedal was also used on vehicles in Canada, China, and Europe, and a total of 4.44 million vehicles were recalled worldwide.
In addition, it was discovered in Japan that the brakes on the third-generation Prius, which was launched in May 2009, had an unexpected feel when activated on certain road surfaces. Test runs and analysis determined that the cause of the customers’ reported concerns was in the ABS control program, although the tests also confirmed that the issue did not affect the ability to stop the vehicle. Nonetheless, to reassure customers, along with the Prius, the SAI hybrid and the Lexus HS 250h were recalled on February 9, 2010. The number of recalled vehicles was 440,000 worldwide.
These additional recalls further fueled the US media speculation about possible flaws in Toyota’s electronic throttle control systems and questions about Toyota’s quality. The publicity, in turn, contributed to an increase in the number of complaints to NHTSA about what NHTSA categorized as “speed control issues.” One such issue was high-speed unintended acceleration.