Posted on October 31st, 2012 No comments
I don’t normally like to link to Jalopnik but, credit where it’s due, this is their story.
It seemed, to me at least, that this story was pretty quiet in social media today. I saw a small number of posts and they could all be described as quiet.
So, what does it mean if a dozen or more (16?) Karmas burn after being submerged in salt water. Well, the obvious thing is, do not submerge your Karma in salt water. I’m not sure this story is yet another well deserved slap up side the head to Fisker or if they were just one of the many victims of Hurricane Sandy. To know for sure I would need to see what happened to other vehicles similarly treated. It’s a pretty extreme test for anything. Salt water is notoriously unkind to most things.
I almost want to say that no matter what, this looks bad for Fisker but I’m not saying that. To be fair, this could have been, to one extent or another, unavoidable.
Posted on May 23rd, 2011 No comments
You want to know about the first and newest member of the Prius family? Of course you do. I got to drive the v and spent some serious time taking it apart and learning about it. What I saw is at the page below.
Posted on March 23rd, 2011 No comments
Straw men are easy to construct and even easier to knock down. That’s really the idea isn’t it? Create a fake issue, then counter it, voila! Your argument is made and won, all in the same breath.
So it goes with Marty Padgett’s piece on carconnection, “Why Detroit Isn’t The “New” New Orleans“.
I was directed to this piece by John Voelcker, an associate of Padgett’s. I’ve read, argued with and agreed with John’s writing for years. Basically, John is a good guy and so, I am sure, is Mr. Padgett. Which leaves me wondering, what was the impetus for carconnection to deliver what’s really a flame at the people of Detroit. Was it really one sentence in some Jalopnik piece? And how many sentient beings out of their teens really take Jalopnik seriously about anything?
Let’s start with the straw man. Padgett writes…
They’re both withered and pretty much defenseless–but does that mean Detroit is the new New Orleans? Does it deserve some kind of federal intervention? Here’s what our colleague, Jalopnik editor @RayWert says:
“Detroit’s New Orleans-like loss of population received no telethons or FEMA assistance. America doesn’t care about Detroit people.”
About what I would expect from Jalopnik. And Padgett deftly explains that no, you don’t get FEMA assistance for the kind of slow burn economic disaster that’s befallen Detroit for the last two decades (or more). That’s obvious. And without reading the Gawker piece (after years of wasting my time, I just don’t bother giving Nick Denton the click) I can’t really further delve into why Wert wrote what he did. Nor do I care to. I’m much more interested in what Padgett wrote for his site.
My argument with Padgett begins here:
And yet Detroit got cash anyway. The city and its suburbs–via automakers and by extensions, suppliers, employees, and dependents–received billions in bailout loans in 2009 that probably prevented the city’s head count from falling twice as far.
We have to parse this one carefully to really see the folly contained inside. On the exterior, it seems to a reasonable, common sense remark but it isn’t and here’s why.
“Detroit” didn’t get the “cash”. GM, Chrysler and Ford have been getting the cash. The difference is enormous. That, for the most part, GM, Chrysler and Ford care really care less about Detroit and the other former locations where they once made cars is self-evident. In the rush to “stay competitive” the big three have off-shored as much production as they possibly can ignoring any tie to the communities left behind in the desolation.
Then Padgett drops the trickle down bomb, “The city and its suburbs–via automakers and by extensions, suppliers, employees, and dependents–received billions” but it’s a weapon of misdirection. Again, the people of Detroit, the city of Detroit didn’t get this money. The automakers who have become pseudonymous with the city they once built cars in got the cash. Some of that federal largesse went to facilities in Detroit, much of it, arguably most of it, did not. None of it went to the people of Detroit or the city of Detroit to help them grapple with the problems they face.
That doesn’t even begin to account for the ongoing subsidies Detroit gets indirectly from federal programs for investing in green-car technology and in sub-federal money that keeps factories alive when they probably weren’t viable on their own account.
Again, the difference between the city receiving monies and the car companies, two thirds of which are now located the suburbs surrounding the city, cashing in is enormous. In many cases the big three have invested that subsidy money, as they have to, domestically. Have that money been spent in Detroit? No, not in its entirety by any means.
As for factories that “weren’t viable on their account” who is to blame for that? The people of Detroit? Are they somehow less productive employees than other places? Or maybe it’s the city of Detroit, maybe the city itself is to blame? I think the blame for the viability of factories rests solidly, but not solely, on the car companies, their managers and executives. Those same executives, by the way, who have been real benefactors of the government bailouts Padgett mentions. Those execs have been collecting their salaries and bonuses while their former factories decayed and their business models were invalidated. Blaming it on the city or on the employees isn’t just wrong, it’s malicious.
Padgett continues to erect straw creations for ceremonial burning…
The second point’s much worse. “America doesn’t care about Detroit people” is political plutonium.
And then he launches into some sideways thing about George Bush. Look, honestly, America doesn’t much care about Detroit any more than it cares about Wilkes-Barre, Cleveland, Gary, Pittsburgh, Rochester, South Bend, Flint or Milwaukee (to name just a few cities). America, passively or otherwise seems to be pretty comfortable allowing the industrial part of our economy to wither and die only to be replaced by the service economy, yes, a nation of fast food and hotel employees. I don’t want to get off track and dig into the politics of all of that but I do think it bear mentioning that if we, as a nation, cared about this sector of the economy and the cities and states that depended on it, we might have talked about building other things or modifying the ways we build things here. Instead, most of us were perfectly content to encourage and subsidize the big three to move as much manufacturing out of this country as possible. If that is “caring” I’ll take apathy.
It’s inflammatory, much like the Jalopnik post that inspired Padgett to write what he did but I do think there is something valid in the comparison. Not a direct one to one comparison, life and reality is seldom that simple. But as a metaphor things like the image below help us see things differently. They force to re-evaluate the so odiously misnamed common wisdom and perhaps, see more truth than we did before. This is one of the first page of Michael Moore‘s 1996 book, “Downsize This!”
The top image is the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that was bombed by Timothy McVeigh. The lower image is a closed factory in Flint. Before you dismiss the comparison, again, not a direct one, consider the following. The Murrah tragedy was the act of one man intentionally trying to destroy federal property and maim and kill. The second image, the Flint factory was the direct result of auto executives making intentional decisions to close a local factory, fire workers there and demolish the building. They’re not the same acts by any means but the point Moore makes in his book is simple and obvious, both acts had much the same results. Lives were ended prematurely. Families were destroyed. Communities were devastated. Was this the fault of those workers? Were they just not good enough? Did they deserve what they got?
In his second to last paragraph Padgett blames Detroit’s ills on, “the unions, and an overbearing, overburdened city government”. Notice what’s missing?
Padgett won’t get an argument from me that some unions have, at times, been out of control. But it’s difficult to blame the big three’s ills on the unions, after all, did the big three also sign onto all those contracts? If those contracts are burdensome or badly negotiated, why did they agree to them?
And Detroit’s civis issues have been well publicized. Their laughable civic government is, well, laughable. And not defend them but allow me to add this. Anyone who has ever run a business can understand this. A growing business is one that is typically much more simple to manage than one that is shrinking. Detroit has been a basket for a long time because of an ever more eroding tax base, and ever increasing burden of costs associated with managing a shrinking economy. For anyone, even the best of civic leaders, Detroit would be a serious challenge.
And ponder this for a moment, what’s been run worse? The city of Detroit, with no federal help and a shrinking economy or the big three car companies with tons of federal assistance and a mandate from the government that they are too big to fail?
Padgett closes with the follow…
New Orleans has levees. Detroit has denial. They’re both Achilles’ heels, but one doesn’t have to be.
Wow, game, set, match. If only Detroit would just pick itself up by its rusty bootstraps and be a real city, it wouldn’t be losing population at a ridiculous rate, turning over entire blocks into improvised gardens and still be host to innumerable empty factories, homes and offices.
I would say that there is some serious denial taking place but it isn’t on Detroit’s part. No, it’s denial from those of us who think that a city devastated by outsourcing, rampant with private enterprise management as malfaisant as the very worst of its civic mishandlers, can just bounce back with a good attitude and the power of positive thinking. Detroit, as a place full of people, is emblematic of the what’s happened to once vibrant middle class this country had. And we ignore that lesson at our own peril.
My note: The title of this piece is, obviously, a line from Pink Floyd’s “Time” which, for some reason I only half understand, was resonating in my head while I wrote this. -russell
Posted on December 28th, 2010 No comments
I just finished an almost 2,000 mile trip in my Prius. I have to say, it forced to re-look at a lot of things about the vehicle both good and bad. I’m working on a video that may better illustrate what I mean but here are some highlights.
-The real core truth about Prius is simple, it works, all the time, under any condition and it delivers. This is the basic stock Prius offers and which Toyota trades in on the Prius brand name. You don’t have to have to a lot of disclaimers and exclusions, it just does what it does better than any other hybrid on the market right now.
-Three adults, two dogs and the every other cubic square inch of my car stuffed with luggage and xmas presents. Almost 2,000 miles with high winds, rain and in some places snow and freezing temperatures. The vehicle remains comfortable and still delivers 44.9 MPG with utterly no effort whatsoever. In fact, let me add in that I probably averaged 70 MPH on the freeway in horrible driving conditions with three different drivers, two of whom can’t even spell “hypermiler.”
-Plasmacluster doesn’t get half the favorable pub it deserves.
-Whoever put the accessory plug and power outlet in the console should be beaten with a stick.
-I love my sunroof. Yes. Even in the winter.
-The downside to the aerodynamic shape of Prius? You have to handwash the thing if you expect the back end to be clean.
-A lot of people still think you have to plug-in a Prius or that it can’t go over 70 MPH. A lot of people.
-The regional popularity (or un-popularity) of Prius is amazing. Contrast the difference in visibility of the vehicle in different parts of the country is just striking.
-I can’t shake the feeling that, deep down, some of the manufacturing differences between the second and third generation Priuses leave the third generation feeling less solid, less tight, more plasticky. It’s small things but overall they add up to a feeling I have to acknowledge.
-Why is the front passenger seat so much less comfortable than the driver seat? It shouldn’t be.
-Cupholders. Please. No, really. Please.
-A light in the upper glovebox would be nice.
-My window washer tank needs to be replaced, again. Tedious and annoying. And frankly, potentially hazardous when driving 1,000 miles home in the winter.
-A rear view camera that could be activated while driving would help, a bit, make up for Prius’s still mostly mediocre rear view issues. The camera is there, just give me a button.
-There is no reason or excuse for the seat heater button to be placed in a position that requires me to fold in half, while driving, to turn it on.
-Did I mention how much I despise the location of the audio accessory plug? Oh boy.
-And where’s my USB connectivity for my MP3 player? Seriously. It’s 2010, almost 2011. In excusable in a car such as Prius.
-And stuff the lawyers in a sack and tell them that customers come back and buy vehicles from your company based on usability. Stop playing around with not allowing me to change things on the MFD while the vehicle is moving. I have an adult passenger in the front passenger seat, it’s stupid to not allow them to make adjustments. Oh, and if you think it’s convenient to pull over on I-95 to do that, you’re effing nuts. This kind of stuff drives owners crazy and makes your vehicles less appealing which translates to less sales which means less money for Toyota Legal to protect.
-PWR mode rocks.
Posted on November 15th, 2010 No comments
Good news, courtesy of Toyota’s Prius Team, here is the first official shot from the inside of the upcoming Prius V…
The bad news, front and center is the object of Toyota’s press release today, some new little bit of evil called, “iheartradio”.
Now, why would I hate something called, “iheartradio”? How about this tidbit from the PR release linked above:
Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) U.S.A., Inc. today announced that it will be working with Clear Channel Radio’s iheartradio, incorporating more than 750 of America’s favorite radio stations and other exclusive content into select Toyota vehicles beginning in 2011. This is the first partnership Toyota is announcing for mobile application integration. More details will be released at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January 2011.
Aside from what has to be one of the most brain dead stupid names I’ve ever had the bad luck not to avoid, it’s from Clear Channel, one of the most vicious media consolidators in the history of this country. Clear Channel has done more to kill and eliminate local radio (and damage music in general) than anyone in my lifetime. Clear Channel has taken over hundreds (well over 1,000) stations and linked and syndicated them removing local control and programming in favor ot network broadcasts and automated, computerized formats. Aside from that, and homogenizing musical playlists, buying up venues and promoters to further consolidate their hold over performance as well as radio, Clear Channel’s only accomplished more quickly what was probably an eventuality, making terrestrial commercial radio, more or less, irrelevant.
So that’s why I’m not all that happy to see Toyota fluff up the covers and invite Clear Channel to now orchestrate what I can listen to in my Toyota.
Oh yeah, thank Beelzebub I can now listen to Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura, Glenn Beck and Ryan Seacrest with just one touch courtesy of iheartradio and Toyota. Yeah, that’s the kind of programming I want to have permanently installed in my vehicle. And yes, that’s right from the press release.
I don’t know all the details of how iheartradio will be implemented in the 2011 Toyotas but I can tell you that this is the kind of move that will have me considering something other than a Toyota for my next vehicle. Like all of us, all the serious time I spend with my Toyota product is inside it and for me, what I can listen to is important, very important. Rather than offer me more freedom to plug in my own content or partner with content distributors such as Pandora who let me “program” my own radio stations, Toyota has brought into the privacy of my (potential future) car the one company I would go a long way to avoid in public and I would never interact in my personal sphere.
It is possible that there is some detail/s in the implementation of iheartradio that might soften that view. I tend to doubt it because, frankly, I can’t really imagine wanting my car buying dollars to go towards furthering a partnership between Toyota and Clear Channel. I hate to say it but there it is anyway.
I think, in a bigger sense, this is very ominous. If this the direction Toyota is going, limiting what I can do inside of their products and forcing me to subsidize, through the purchase of my automobile, a company that I feel very negatively about, then I think that’s a loss for me but what’s more, a loss for all of us. I would much prefer, as I mentioned above, to see Toyota moving in the direction of allowing Toyota owners to create their own entertainment space inside the car. I don’t need to provide a company such as Clear Channel another chance to make me the captive listener I was before these other options existed. Toyota is still behind other companies when it comes to integration of devices like MP3 players and smart phones. And now, they’ve partnered with a company whose single mission has been controlling, tightly controlling what I can listen to. And it’s built into my car? I said “ominous” above because I think it is. I don’t think it’s hyperbole. For so many reasons this is exactly the wrong direction for Toyota and it saddens me to see this happening.
That’s just my personal opinion and YMMV.
Posted on October 15th, 2010 No comments
I met Darren Ewing this past weekend at the Prius Tenth Anniversary (yeah, all those pictures down below). Here’s a link to his commentary and thoughts on Toyota vis a vis the sudden acceleration incidents from earlier this year and later year. You might find some argument with some of his points but what you won’t find missing are two things.
His willingness to honestly admit he was wrong before and he forthrightness in correcting that.
And his passion for greatness and respect for it.
Two things I admire a great deal.
Posted on September 27th, 2010 No comments
This story from Edmunds is so indicative of much of their output in the last few years.
Basically, Dan Edmunds thinks there is a problem with the ESC on the 2004 Prius. And there appears to be one. The diagnosis for this issue is, apparently, the point of the story but it’s only at the end that we hear,
First: I’m going to install new tires. One of them is bad anyway, but it’s a rear, and rear tires don’t cause pull or steering wheel misalignments. Besides, the front ones are worn, too, and worn oddly. There could be excess conicity at work, enough to create sufficient right-hand force to make me have to steer left to go straight.
Yeah Dan, might have something to do with it. At the very least that might make diagnosing the problem a bit tougher.
Truth is, the car needs to be seen by a dealer who can check a few things.
Posted on March 27th, 2010 No comments
The Daily Telegraph says a lot of good things and stupid things. This one falls into the latter category:
Look, I love Top Gear but it’s a TV show and all which that implies. It’s sometimes silly and shallow. It’s sometimes quite stupid. It is however, frequently entertaining, something which more TV shows could look into.
And with all that said, Top Gear isn’t the problem. It’s “motorsports” which are the problem. Let’s be realistic. Motorsports are defined as sports with motors in them, and by that I mean, gasoline motors, often, large, loud, polluting, fuel inefficient motors. It’s the way the genre has been defined for generations. Top Gear is hardly to blame for this.
And while I’ll leave the main blame laying to others I’ll tell you who I think is also to blame for this, many of us eco-driving warriors, that’s who.
Look, cars, motorcycles and the lot are fun. They are. You can do all sorts of exciting things with them and people do. They drive them in circles really fast. They drive over exciting and challenging dirt surfaces. They drive them in marathons. They crash them into each other. They do things with vehicles that are exciting, for many people, to watch.
What have we, the alt-car crowd come up?
Seriously. That’s our contribution to motorsports.
Why aren’t having fun with fuel efficient cars? Why aren’t coming up with exciting new ways to compete in vehicles that aren’t necessarily wasting inordinate amounts of fuel and creating enormous clouds of oil tinged pollution? What have we done to change the existing paradigm? Nothing. Well, very little.
It’s partially our fault the public thinks fuel efficient cars (and EVs and electric scooters…) are boring because that’s all we shown them. We can drive them slow, we can compete saving fuel. Chess is exciting in comparison. And don’t get me wrong, MPG Challenges are fun (for some of us). I’ve been to more than a few but frankly, it’s never going to be a widespread phenomena and for good reason.
It is incumbent upon us, the fuel efficient, low pollution devotees to come up with something less environmentally disastrous than the Daytona 500 and slightly more exciting than watching corn grow. I think we can do it if we try.
One of the most fun things I saw at the Tour del Sol in 2006 was the autocross competition amongst the vehicles there (EV’s, biodiesel, hybrids and whatnot). That was fun. It was relatively low impact and it was a chance to use those vehicles in ways most people never consider. Why aren’t we, we being the green car community, doing more things like that? Why aren’t we sponsoring efficiency contests that not only reward MPG but add in a real life element, time. If all you are doing is managing your MPG chances are, you’re a road hazard. However, if you had to do that and stay within a realistic time bracket, suddenly your skills must be a bit more attuned to, dare I suggest, the real world? The world most people live in? I’d like to see more rally style competitions where timing and efficiency are the point. Rewarding only efficiency is too narrow. There’s no reason why we can’t organize fun rallies that aren’t tortoise versus tortoise competitions. Car clubs do it all the time.
And I don’t mean to limit these competitions by other traditional definitions. Why doesn’t a car company who is often proud that so many of their older vehicles are on the road honor that more tangibly? Yes, building a great car is the main point but again, we’re talking about changing paradigms here. For most of my life I was a devoted Volvo owner (until I bought my very first new car, my 2005 Prius). Volvo has a wonderful program whereby they send very nicely done metal plaques to owners of Volvo who have clocked over 100,000 miles. They also do it for 250K and 500K. What a great program, rewarding and recognized longevity. And while this isn’t exactly related to what I am discussing here, it is outside the “norm” when we think about cars. It’s this kind of thinking that we need to engage in.
I’ve always wanted to put one of these logos on my Prius. Why? Well, I love the idea that TRD isn’t just about bigger, louder, faster. I love the idea that anything can be “raced”. A great driver can compete, in any number of ways, in any vehicle. So yes, right now I love the TRD logo that isn’t (but should be) on my Prius because it’s kind of ridiculous. But I also love it for what it could represent, a rebellion against the louder, faster, bigger and towards something else. A whole new definition of performance that isn’t so narrowly defined.
Which brings me to the final bit of finger-pointing, I’m going lay part of the blame one other place. The car companies. All of them. They spend tens of millions of dollars supporting motorsports as they exist now. They have, as much as anyone else, created the paradigm that bigger, louder, faster and gas-hoggier is better. It’s time they diverted a small amount of that money in a different direction. It’s time for, especially the companies for whom fuel efficiency is a major selling point (Yes, my dear friends in Torrance, I’m talking to you) to invest some small part of what they pump into F1, NASCAR and all the rest helping to build a new paradigm. A paradigm which, I would hasten top point out, supports their long term business model much better than NASCAR or Formula One. This won’t be changed overnight. It will take decades but now is the time to help the pioneers reshape the perception of the personal transportation device, help people who are trying to reframe the conversation away from horsepower and torque to one where agility, efficiency and versatility are more important. You can do it. After all, you built the existing motorsports model. Imagine in fifty years people looking back with a whole new view of “motorsports” and seeing what we could do today as groundbreaking. Now that’s exciting. If we do it.
Posted on March 13th, 2010 No comments
Last Monday James Sikes leaped into the national view when he claimed, via a twenty-three minute long 911 call that his Prius was speeding out of control. Pleading for help, a CHP officer finally drove next to him instructing him to engage the parking brake. After almost thirty minutes, James Sikes nightmare had ended.
Or had it?
There’s nothing our twenty-four a day media love more than a circus and this was a good one. On the very day Toyota conclusively debunked a so-called “expert’s” claim that he had reproduced unintended acceleration, Sikes appeared, as if by command, to show the world what it was like to speed out of control in a Prius.
Whether Sikes story is a hoax or not is debatable, to some extent. As yet, no physical evidence has been presented that he faked it or that it was real. The investigation is ongoing. Well, sort of.
The real failure in this tale of woe is that of the media. Our media failed us completely and utterly. Instead of asking hard questions, we were treated to press conferences with the “victim” and computer generated recreations of the incident (albeit mostly inaccurate ones).
Here’s a wire story from the Associated Press from late yesterday. Check out these excerpts and decide if there is a pattern here.
The California Highway Patrol has repeatedly said it has no reason to suspect a hoax. It does not plan to investigate the incident or perform a mechanical inspection because there were no injuries or property damage.
I guess driving over 80 MPH and making false claims to an officer is no longer a crime in California. That should make my next visit to California a lot more exciting.
“There is no factual information that I’m aware of, or the highway patrol is aware of, that would discredit his story,” agency spokesman Brian Pennings said Friday.
No, as I said, there isn’t yet. But where is the common sense? Where is the sober judgment of people who, at least I used to think, had vast experience with motor vehicles? And I guess since the CHP is not investigating it will be hard for them to turn up any additional facts in the case, won’t it. As I said, I hope the CHP who encounters me cruising at 90 MPH on California highways is as forgiving and incurious.
And after having several people prove that engaging the parking brake, shifting to neutral or simply turning the vehicle off would have stopped this, almost immediately, The AP felt it was necessary to bring another “expert” just toss some digital noise of their own into the mix:
But Raj Rajkumar, an electrical and computer-engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh who studies auto electronics, said the Prius could still have acceleration malfunctions even with the fail-safe system.
Toyota says the fail-safe and the engine are controlled by a central computer that contains two independent microprocessors that communicate and must agree with each other. If there’s a disagreement, power would be cut to the wheels.
But Rajkumar said the two engine control unit microprocessors could still receive common erroneous signals from sensors or experience software errors that could cause the throttle and the fail-safe mechanism to malfunction.
Two, independent microprocessors giving identical erroneous sensor readings? That is indeed the perfect storm. I wonder what the odds of that are and I wonder why the AP didn’t ask him that. No I don’t.
Here’s the weirdest “fact”, and it’s only one of many that make no sense at all. From the AP story:
Todd Neibert, the officer who gave instructions to Sikes over a loudspeaker, said he smelled burning brakes when he caught up with the Prius. He examined the car when it came to a stop.
“The brakes were definitely down to hardly any material,” he told reporters. “There was a bunch of brake material on the ground and inside the wheels.”
Let’s walk through this, shall we? You’re accelerating out of control in a vehicle, you’re “standing on the brakes” over a thirty mile long stretch of road. I understand why the officer might examine the brakes and find little or no brake material on the mechanism but this part, “There was a bunch of brake material on the ground” has been repeatedly asserted by Officer Niebert and it makes no sense. If you’ve worn down the brakes over a thirty mile long drive, why would there be brake material in a pile, on the ground under the car? Shouldn’t the material be spread out over a thirty mile long stretch of road?
The problem here is no one in the media asked important questions or really questioned the entire incident until people started speaking out on the net and commenting how odd this entire incident is.
Instead, we get this from the AP:
Claybrook, the former federal administrator, noted that drivers often come under heavy scrutiny for reporting unintended acceleration.
“Attacking the driver has long been the answer that not just Toyota, but the entire industry, has had,” she said. “Blaming the driver is old hat.”
Old hat indeed when the facts make no sense. If someone tells me something that is, on the face it, wholly illogical, yes, I question them. And that Claybrook doesn’t and that the AP feels that’s a vital part of the story tells me more about each of them than the incident itself.
Then there’s this sad, sad bit of kabuki. A spokesperson from congressional rep Darrell Issa’s office showed at the investigation of the Sikes incident and demanded to be included, delaying the investigation for more than several hours. Why? Well, just because.
In all, no less than four reports of “sudden unintended acceleration” have been reported this week. In every case the initials reports (and most of the follow-ups) have been met with little or no skepticism, no important questions asked and just comments about how bad this look for Toyota.
The result of all this is simple, the media have, intentionally or otherwise, damaged every Toyota owner in the United States, no protected them. The kind of reporting that doesn’t look for facts and reasons and only relates the dramatic and exciting aspects have caused the values of every Toyota in the United States to decline. Kelley Blue Book has, twice in the last thirty days, announced reductions in the values of Toyota vehicles. This, quite literally, affects every person who owns a Toyota in the US. And when the dust has settled. When the facts do manage to ooze out. Who is going to repair that damage?
Posted on March 12th, 2010 1 comment
So earlier today Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas decided to rear up on his hind legs and grab some national attention by filing a class action suit “on behalf of the residents of Orange County”.
(image from the District Attorney’s office)
Clearly the worst problems in Orange County California appear to be, it’s not getting enough national press. If this is what occupying their district attorney then truly, Orange County must be a little slice heaven.
Keep in mind, this is the county, one of the most prosperous in California, that managed to go bankrupt in the mid nineties. I suppose by now the embarrassment from that has faded so this issue must loom large in the sights of ace law enforcer Joseph “Tony” Rackauckas. Sure, the Orange County has struggled with plummeting property values, rampant mortgage fraud and home foreclosures, losing jobs but this Toyota thing, well, it has to be addressed.
Here’s a PDF of the complaint. Here’s a bit of it:
3. This case is based on several simple and provable facts: (a) millions of California consumers purchased defective Toyota vehicles; (b) Toyota knew that these defects existed; (c) Toyota failed to disclose these defects, and actually took affirmative steps to hide the defects and mislead the public about them; (d) as a result, none of the California consumers knew about, or reasonably could have known about, the defects; (e) millions of California consumers have been harmed by owning or leasing Toyota vehicles that contain defects which completely undermine the safety and reliability of the vehicles; and (f) the value of every Toyota vehicle owned by California consumers has been reduced because of these defects.
So one has to wonder what evidence Rackauckas has that congress apparently lacks, oh, and the entire news media since we’ve seen no evidence that Toyota has done any of this. What we have seen is a lot of very bad reporting, some folks with claims that are backed no physical evidence and make little sense and a general, “We hate Toyota” sentiment that seems to be driving this in some areas.
Here’s the kicker:
Relief sought by the OCDA
The OCDA is seeking to permanently enjoin Toyota from continued unlawful, unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent business practices as it pertains to both consumers and competitors. The OCDA is seeking civil penalties in the amount of $2,500 for every violation of the Unfair Business Practices Act. The Plaintiff is also seeking recovery of attorneys’ fees, investigation costs, and any other equitable relief as deemed just.
So the “relief” is twenty-five hundred bucks for each Toyota owner plus legal fees? As usual, the attorney’s here bill for millions and the actual people might see as much as $2500. Great deal if you can get it, for the attorneys.
And because everyone deserves a chance to tell their own story I called the DA’s office in Orange County. I spoke with one of their spokespeople there and I asked a few questions to try wrap my mind around this thing.
I asked how many complaints the DA’s office had received regarding Toyota vehicles. The response was that this action on the part of DA Rackauckas is not based on consumer complaints from Orange County residents. Why Orange County first? Why not let the Feds deal with this. The response, from DA Rackauckas’ own speech is as follows:
As these cases continue to pile up, I became increasingly uneasy, knowing that many thousands of California consumers have purchased defective Toyota vehicles. I became increasingly concerned that Orange County consumers may be purchasing many more Toyotas without knowing the full facts.
I feel it is the duty of the Orange County District Attorney’s Office to protect the public and our consumers from unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices. I feel it is our duty to make sure Toyota is not gaining an unfair business advantage over other car companies who are not doing what Toyota is doing.
Nice of OC to step up and offer to fight Toyota on behalf of, well, everyone. A little more history, directly from DA’s speech this morning:
You may remember that in 2002, we joined forces with the Robinson, Calcagnie & Robinson law firm in taking action against giant international oil companies to clean up poison from ground water. As a result, we forced the oil companies to clean up over 300 sites and pay over $25 million in penalties and millions more in unlimited costs for cleanup of contaminated sites.
(editors note: I can only find records of OCDA getting a little less than $10 million in these suits)
It’s no secret that our office has been enduring a severe budget crisis. We have to prosecute the same number of cases with 10 percent less prosecutors and investigators. As important as protecting the public from unfair business practices and this case may be, I could not take prosecutors away from prosecuting murderers, rapists and gang members.
We all know that as soon as we file this suit against the world’s largest, most successful car corporation, they are going to be parachuting in lawyers, with all kinds of legal tactics up their sleeves. We need the assistance of a law firm, with expertise in these types of cases, to help us defend against the barrage of legal attacks we expect from this gigantic international corporation. Believe me, they will spare no expense to hire an army of lawyers from fancy firms.
Brave, I guess, but then fighting paper dragons often sounds much more impressive than it is. So, the mostly broke office of the Orange County District Attorney is going to take on Toyota over what they perceive as some kind of mounting crisis because no one else will? And they’re going to do it armed with what facts? And taxpayer paid outside attorneys? With what evidence? Based on news reports? And let’s be clear here, getting oil companies to pay to “study” and clean up after 143 leaky gas stations is a lot different than somehow proving Toyota has been knowingly selling defective cars and intentionally hurting people. The evidence with the oil companies was measurable. And even that settlement didn’t clean up all the gas stations, it only provided that the oil companies would spend several million dollars studying the sites to determine if a clean up was necessary. And the OCDA got $5 million in legal fees. Funny thing, those same oil companies with the Lake Tahoe water district for a similar issue. The result, Lake Tahoe got $60 million. Not such a great deal for Orange County residents, eh?
What’s more, let’s pretend for a moment that DA Rackauckas has a point and he’s doing god’s work here. Why just Toyota? There are more than handful of other recalls on other vehicles from other companies, some going back years. So why just Toyota?
As I’ve said here before, I’ll lead parade with torches to the Torrance offices if someone can show me proof Toyota has done what many in the media and the DA of Orange County is claiming. Keep in mind, I have a big, fat car loan right now on a 2010. My kid drives a Corolla. I have no desire to prop up a company that would knowingly hurt people to make money least of all, hurt my family and I.
But where’s the evidence?
And without that, people like this asinine DA in Orange County have caused me harm. Armed with a “timeline” they’ve damaged the resale value of my property, this DA and the media, without evidence and without care to actually reporting facts. It’s my opinion that I can prove that. I can point to the hundreds of bad, misleading and inaccurate articles that have damaged what my property is worth. I can point to idiotic grandstanding by the media and now, an officer of the court, namely, the District Attorney of Orange County California all of which have done nothing to “protect the consumer” and a lot of harm millions of Toyota owners all over the United States.
Where’s my lawsuit?
If were an OC resident right now, I’d be pissed my tax dollars trying to chase some Toyota gravy train that is highly unlikely to ever come in. And let’s be honest here, he’s not doing it for people of Orange County, Rackauckas is doing it for himself and for the other attorney’s. This District Attorney has a history of chasing these kind of budget problems. Only last year DA Rackauckas came under fire from a death penalty proponent for prosecuting so many death penalty cases? Why? They’re expensive. And in a time of budgetary problems it seemed pointless to spend the money prosecute these cases and incur the additional cost of asking for the death penalty in a state that has no death penalty.
He’s going to spend Orange County tax dollars paying outside attorneys to prosecute this case and he’s doing it to try and build himself a bigger name. And that’s pathetic because I don’t think that’s what Orange County residents elected him for.
Posted on March 11th, 2010 No comments
It would appear our Mr. Sikes is not a great decision maker. In jumping into the media spotlight, something he has consciously done, he’s suddenly a person a lot people are curious about. Leave it to Gawker to dig up the dirt.
Of course, none of this directly refutes Sike’s claims. It does however cast a different light on his character and potential motivations.
I still like evidence and it’s my hope that we’ll see something come out of the investigation on this matter.
Posted on March 11th, 2010 1 comment
And here’s where I rip CNN a new one.
Let’s face it, running a huge multi-national, like the proverbial sausage factory, isn’t pretty but that doesn’t stop millions of people from gobbling up the product.
This story, no matter how it ends, is going to be real ugly for Toyota.
Apparently, a person whom CNN describes as “former in-house defense attorney Dimitrios Biller” resigned from Toyota, cashing in a four million dollar severance package and walked out with more than 6,000 documents and emails from his former employer. In the article, Biller claims the documents are damaging to Toyota, “Not potentially, they are. They are very damaging,”
There’s little doubt in my mind that just about any lawyer could produce documents that were damaging to a former client. That’s the nature of legal representation, right or wrong, we’re only pondering half the story if we can’t admit that. So even under the best circumstances, this is going to be another nightmare for Toyota.
So the real question is, so what does he have? What do these documents show us?
So what did CNN learn?
The documents — some of which were reviewed by CNN — were sent by Biller to Toyota officials. There are numerous references to so-called “Books of Knowledge,” highly confidential information on design, safety systems and testing records allegedly generated by Toyota engineers on everything from roll-overs and roof safety to sudden unintended acceleration.
Here’s a photograph of one of the not-so-secret “Books of Knowledge” I took in January of 2009. It happens to be “the Book” for the third generation Prius. The man holding it is known simply as the “The Chief”. He’s Chief Engineer of the Prius, Akihiko Otsuka.
And this picture…
And this picture of The Chief actually consulting the book to respond to a question…
So, yeah, secret book of knowledge. The Chief referred to this “book”, well, folder, that appeared to contain a vast amount of very well organized data on the the third generation Prius, many times throughout the presentation and questioning.
Here’s how CNN described it;
highly confidential information on design, safety systems and testing records allegedly generated by Toyota engineers on everything from roll-overs and roof safety to sudden unintended acceleration.
Of course any company that designs and builds a car has this information. In fact, I would guess that every car company has this information on every vehicle they’ve made and yes, it’s confidential. Is that surprising or somehow “damaging” to Toyota?
Again, the question is, depends on what’s in there. But by no means does mere existence of this information mean Toyota has done something wrong. This is shoddy, tawdry reporting. Give me an example of something that’s damning from these documents which CNN claim they have examined. CNN does, later on, but it’s, well, read on please…
So far, we know an ex-Toyota lawyer grabbed a bunch of privileged communications and is now, now that he’s out and has his four very-large bonus, he’s claiming these documents are damaging.
Further on we read about a specific liability case. A case, as it turns out, which Biller defended Toyota in. The accident was a Camry rollover which Toyota settled for $1.5 million. The plaintiff’s lawyer in the case is quoted as saying,
Embry, who added Toyota provided just enough information to show Toyota vehicles “met the minimum standards.”
Perhaps sad but again, what I would expect from any company defending itself in a multi-million dollar and not proof of guilt by any means.
Again, from the CNN article:
Included in Biller’s documents is an e-mail he said he sent to his bosses summarizing negotiations. It says, “TMS [Toyota Motor Sales USA] concluded that it would be better to pay a premium to settle this case and avoid producing the ‘Books of Knowledge.’”
So Toyota decided to pay off this claim rather than divulge what is basically a blueprint for building the Prius, even more, they’re the results of building the vehicle using those plans and testing it. I’m sure there’s a lot of folks that would like to get that information for free. GM claims to have spent three quarters of a billion dollars designing, building and testing the Volt, so far. Who wouldn’t love to see “the Book” on the Volt? Do you think GM would fight to keep that information secret?
Although Toyota calls the materials “trade secrets,” Embry said,
So why, if Biller knew a judge had ordered all information produced, didn’t he produce it? He said he tried but was stopped by a superior who told him, “You have to protect the client at all costs.”
“Even if that includes,” Biller asked, “committing criminal acts or violating the law?”
The answer, Biller said, was yes.
Did he break the law? “No, I did as much as I could as a lawyer for a client to not break the law,” he said.
At least he follows orders.
Toyota says publicly that Biller is full of it and they will continue to fight to keep those documents private. I can’t blame them but I will add this, if there is something in there that is truly damning, I’d be at the head of the line to kick some Toyota ass. But the evidence has to be there. I won’t do it on the allegations of a former lawyer who left Toyota years ago because of a “nervous breakdown”, grabbed a bunch of privileged communications and then, four years later, threatens to make them public.
I want evidence. Where is the evidence? We have enough allegation and assumption on this issue. Enough to clog the news organs of this country all too much. Where are the real facts?
There’s no doubt CNN should be reporting this story. My question for them, when will they actually do some reporting? If their goal was act as flack for this former lawyer, job well done. If their goal was to inform the public, they haven’t really bothered to tell us anything important, have they?
And as I said at the top, there’s no way this can end well for Toyota. It just adds more ironic gasoline to the fire. Even if Toyota is successful in keeping “the Book” and rest secret, then they lose image wise. If they make it public, everyone gets everything they spent millions learning.
Yes, this is going to suck for Toyota.
And by the way, just for laughs, here’s The Chief and I later in the day…