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…
Posted on February 8th, 2010 No comments
In this thread.
From a WaPo story on Toyota. It goes over how at least one insurance may have warned NHTSA about accelerator problems as early as 2007 but read on braver visitor, the punchline awaits…
“When we see something that might be helpful, we pass it along,” said Dick Luedke, a State Farm spokesman.
Luedke declined to go into detail about the alerts, except to characterize them as “numerous” and not “everyday” occurrences. He directed further questions to NHTSA.
NHTSA spokeswoman Karen Aldana said the agency received a claim letter from State Farm in September 2007 regarding a Camry crash. (emp. mine)
“Our investigative staff reviewed the report and added the information to our complaint database,” she said in a statement.
Aldana offered no comment on the other alerts from State Farm on Toyotas.
Now that is some excellent reporting. Almost content free. How many people had crashes? Had bad were they? Could they could connected to a common fault? Everyone is talking in this story but as the song goes, “They ain’t sayin anything”.
This could be huge, important information that could be devastating to Toyota and their customers. It could be trivial. We don’t know. We can’t evaluate it for ourselves because the critical details aren’t there.
Oh, and yes, NHTSA is a big issue here and one reason why, I would opine, that Toyota isn’t saying a lot.
Posted on February 5th, 2010 No comments
There was time when America was informed by newspapers. Don’t get me wrong, half-assed journalism has always been with us. There never was a “golden age” where all journalists (in any medium) were daring and sought naught but the truth. But I would contend there is a reason that newspapers have been declining in readers steadily for the last twenty-five years.
Kiah Haslett of the Chicago Tribune contacted me via email yesterday about the Toyota recall. I called her back while on my way to a job (I’m a working photographer, but no, not for a newspaper, I do commercial work). I spent probably twenty minutes chatting with her in detail about the 2010 Prius and carefully explaining the “brake problem”. I thought we were really communicating. Maybe we were. But if you read this story, it’s difficult to to tell.
The lead off graph is about how a man is “distraught” and cannot relax since the recall. Lucky man if the worst thing in his world is a car recall in a year when the economy is cratering, hundreds of thousands die in natural disasters and we’re still involved in two wars which kill Americans nearly every day.
Which isn’t to say that the gentleman Haslett profiles in the beginning of her article is foolish for being concerned about his daughter. That’s natural. It’s the way he characterizes and what he thinks the solution is that is downright stupid.
Lucy Liu says she’s getting rid of her Solara and doesn’t want another Toyota. So she’s buying a Lexus. All that beauty apparently surrounds less than a probing intellect. That’s sad.
We get a one liner from another Toyota owner and then, me.
The problem with doing a “phoner” is that I didn’t record my end so I can’t compare how she quoted me to what I actually said. Suffice to say, I thought I spent more than enough time trying to explain the situation and the jumbled mess there attributed to me makes it seem as though I’m comfortable with brakes that don’t work so much as entertain.
The finale of Haslett’s article is a redux of the distraught man from the top. He says complained a problem to the dealer but the dealer said it was ok. Well, what was the problem she complained about? Is it too much to ask a reporter to report critical details? Is he alleging the dealer ignored an out of control acceleration issue? or something else? Readers of the Tribune won’t find out.
The article ends with this plaintive but utterly pointless quote,
“When I signed for the car, I didn’t sign for this,” he said.
Does anyone ever buy a car thinking it won’t be perfect and trouble-free forever? However unrealistic that is, I get it, but so what? It’s silly to think that way. There’s a reason why car companies offer warranties and reason why car buyers love them. Because we live in an imperfect world. But that’s trivializing the issue and I’m here to do that. I am here to point out how shallow that ending sentence was.
Look, I’m not minimizing how much it sucks to have a car recalled especially for something potentially serious. That said, out of millions of Toyota out there, we’re talking about, quite literally, a handful of complaints. To my knowledge, no accidents or injuries have resulted. Again, that’s not to minimize that a recall sucks but let’s be adults here. We live in a world of mass produced goods. Sometimes, with some of the things we buy there are problems. To expect otherwise is to live in some odd fantasy world filled with marshmallow clouds and unicorns. Cars get recalled all the time. If this were a Chevy recall, it wouldn’t be a story. Want me to prove it?
This week the NHTSa announced it was investigating 1,132 complaints about steering defects in four model years of the Chevrolet Cobalt affecting more than 900,000 cars.
Have you heard about that on the Today show?
Maybe the president of Chevy made a video and apologized for it?
Maybe your local news station went to their Chevy dealer to ask about it?
None which makes the Toyota recall any different but it does highlight the unique nature of this story, something which I think, is fueling this media feeding frenzy. It’s weird. Toyotas don’t usually have problems. Toyota isn’t typically involved in a mass recall such as this one. So it’s different. So it deserves the insane amount of coverage it’s getting, right?
So, back to intrepid reporter Kiah and the Chicago Tribune. Sure, as the story headline makes clear, many Toyota owners are frustrated. Some of them are downright nuts (see the idiot Tundra owner in the post below). But for most of us, it’s an inconvenience and not much more. And that’s the way it should be. Since we can’t expect any manufacturer to be perfect, we hope they are very, very good and when there is a problem we want to them to solve it quickly and effectively. Which, curiously enough, is exactly what Toyota is doing. And yet, the news cycle grinds on.
As I try to wind this epic screed down I want to specifically address the 2010 Prius “brake problem” and compare and contrast this with the accelerator recall. I’m also going to toss a little gasoline on this fire.
Keep in mind, the accelerator recall only involved Toyota’s made here in the US and the part specifically involved is also made here in the US. Toyota’s made in Japan are not affected by the recall or, apparently, afflicted with this issue. Funny how that gets glossed over, eh?
All Prius currently come from Japan, so conflating this “brake issue” (and I’ll get to why I keep putting that in quotes shortly) with the accelerator is really mixing two very different issues together as one.
Ok, here’s the deal on the 2010 brakes and Prius brakes in general. Prius uses a system common to most hybrids where the brakes are a combination of two things, a generator and the standard friction brakes common to every car. The generators are used during the first part of the braking procedure. The generators reduce the speed of the car in the same manner standard friction brakes do but, unlike standard friction brakes, they generate electricity which is used to keep the hybrid batteries charged. Standard friction brakes only generate heat and wear down the braking surface. It’s one reason why most Prius owners don’t replace brakes for 100,000 miles or more.
Now, there is a transition, when braking where the generators are no longer engaged and the standard friction brakes are. Let me put it another way. If you were to index the pressure you apply to your brakes from 1 to 100. As you apply pressure that index number increases. In Prius, you’re not using the standard friction brakes until you hit about index number 80 or so (depending on how you apply them, this is much simpler than the actual process is). From 80 or so onward, the regenerative braking is no longer engaged and the standard friction brakes are.
With me so far? It’s pretty simple actually. The whole thing is controlled under a very much more than I bothered to explain set of computer instructions that react much faster than you possibly could. This computer also takes into consideration whether or not all the wheels are turning (if you were sliding for instance). All in all it makes the Prius brake system very safe and extremely efficient (like the rest of the car). This isn’t much different from the standard ABS braking system. It’s a lot tougher than it used to be to stand on the brakes and make the car skid around. That’s an improvement, not a defect.
So, where “issue” comes up is this. There are times when applying the brakes in Prius, if you happen to traveling over a broken road surface, a pothole or, something that happens to me all the time because of where I live, if you’re going over something like a railroad crossing. If you’re applying the brakes steadily as you go over this surface sometimes you will feel the transition between the regenerative system and the standard friction system. It’s a weird feeling, somewhat akin to being in free fall for a brief instant, then, the friction brakes kick in and you continue to slow down. It’s a fraction of a second but an intense fraction of a second. Next time it happens, you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, that.”
I first noticed this in my 2005 Prius and I’ve noticed it in my 2010. We have especially mediocre roads in Lancaster. Some Prius owners have never noticed it. The thing is, it’s not necessarily a “problem”. It’s not a “defect” in the general sense. It’s the way that braking system works.
Allow me to make a final analogy.
Let’s say you’re a Prius owner. Maybe a new Prius owner. Maybe out for your first drive in your new car. You’re driving away from the dealership and and you see a red light ahead. You stop at the intersection and as you do, the gas motor in your new Prius stops running! Dead silence. You can’t believe it. Your Prius just stalled. When the light turns green, you press on the accelerator and glide through the intersection.
Now, did you just experience a “defect” or a “problem” or was it the normal behavior of Prius?
The answer is, of course, it’s the way Prius works. Same goes for the brakes. Yes, it’s different from “standard” cars. Yes, if you don’t know what’s going on it’s weird as hell. But it’s not a problem.
Did you know that more than three quarters of the people who drive a 2010 Prius are brand new to hybrids?
All of which is to say, Toyota is being unfairly lambasted for this 2010 brake issue. I don’t think it’s an issue at all. And I very much hope that the solution is not something which kills the regenerative braking system, one of the great things about Prius.
We, as the public, must grow up and not be lemmings eager to hurl themselves into the sea at the slightest provocation. We need to demand, because as customers, we deserve to know, good explanations and complete resolutions. But we also need to be reasonable and fair. Acting like a spoiled child may be satisfying for some but it’s not any more appealing than it sounds. I know a lot people at Toyota. To a person they are nice, reasonable people who work very hard to build honest cars at a good value. History shows us that they’ve been successful at it for a long time. Toyota builds a lot of cars here in the US. Toyota employs tens of thousands of Americans. This isn’t about bashing a “foreign” car company. When Ford builds the Fusion in Mexico and Toyota builds the Camry in Kentucky, we have to revise our thinking on who is “foreign” and how that word even applies anymore. Piling on Toyota and allowing a pathetic media to do so is not good for us. It doesn’t inform us. It’s infantilizes us. We’re not spoiled children.
A long time ago one of my bosses told me, “No one is perfect. To err is indeed human and what distinguishes us is how we deal with those imperfections both ours and of others.”
Wise words indeed. It’s how we fix mistakes that distinguish as human beings both good and bad. Expecting things to be perfect isn’t human. It’s just stupid.
If you have questions about your Toyota drop me a line. I’m always here to help.
Posted on January 8th, 2010 No comments
Toyota is officially teasing people with a portion of the new dedicated hybrid model they will debut at the Detroit auto show on Monday. It seems obvious it will be the Scion iQ. I could be wrong, but I’m not unsure. Sure, Toyota could be debuting a brand new, never seen before model but that seems unlikely and a bit un-Toyota-like. It seems more likely to me that the iQ will be the vehicle for two reasons;
-First Scion hybrid (Scion needs one hybrid in their lineup)
-Cheaper hybrid than the Prius or Camry, so it makes sense that it’s a Scion rather than a Toyota
All told, my blathering doesn’t matter much and we’ll know in a few days.
Here’s the iQ concept shot:
And here’s the teaser pic from Toyota:
It’s close, not a perfect match but very close.
Posted on August 18th, 2009 No comments
1. Toyota Corolla
2. Honda Civic
3. Ford Focus
4. Toyota Camry
5. Toyota Prius
6. Hyundai Elantra
7. Ford Escape (front-wheel-drive)
8. Honda Fit
9. Nissan Versa
10. Honda CR-V (four-wheel-drive)
Posted on June 16th, 2009 No comments
Warren Brown, auto columnist for the Washington Post had one of their regular online chats. Here is one particularly stupid excerpt from that chat.
As part of an answer where Brown “clarified” a response from Bob Lutz on American cars not being as competitive as some Asian and European cars, Brown blurted this out at the end.
Ford’s Fusion Hybrid beats the wheels off both the Toyota Prius and Camry hybrids. Don’t believe me? Take a few comparison test drives.
In what sense “beats the pants off”? Not in sales. Not in MPG. Not in reliability. Does the Fusion go faster? Maybe Brown thinks the Fusion is nicer looking? Maybe it’s something else? Maybe.
So I wonder if Bob Lutz is going to return the favor to Mr. Brown and possibly clarify this rather vapid statement from Brown?
I don’t think so either.
I wonder why WaPo circulation continues to decline?
Posted on June 4th, 2009 3 comments
Here’s the latest word from POG reader Rich in Northern California.
Rich just got his 2010 Prius a few days. I very appreciate him taking the time to share his first impressions.
I’m still getting used to all the controls, but the car feels much more solid – a Camry like ride (my brother has a Camry Hybrid – so I’ve driven that a fair amount). He was impressed, by the way.
A few things – no touch lock on the rear (that I could find) – just the two front doors. I guess I’ll have to read the manual. No place in the ceiling to put your sun glasses – oh well, there’s the sun roof controls. The solar cooling fan works like a charm although it hasn’t been hot enough yet (we had some rain today and will have the next two days. When you open the door, it shuts off. I haven’t tried the air conditioning button yet.
My first 150 miles – 47.6 mpg. Now, if you know the SF Bay Area at all, there are lots of hills – and I drive each day from Oakland to Concord – up the hills to the tunnel – then into the next valley with ups and downs – and reverse. Pretty much up and downey travel. Tonight we went to a League of Women’s Voters dinner on Skyline Blvd in Oakland – really up – about 1000 feet (my house is about 50 ft above sea level). I think when I start travelling in the Sacramento/San Joaquin valleys we’ll notice lots of improvement.
I thought the display was a bit underbright – but I’ve adjusted – and yes, the brightness was turned all the way up. You don’t have to turn it down at night – no reflections.
I’ve had just a few strange looks from other Prius drivers – most are totally un-aware – and I’ve yet to see another 3G on the road, but then I’ve only had it three days and I got the first one from our Walnut Creek dealer (where we’ve bought all our hybrids).
My wife doesn’t want to drive it yet – she wants me to put the first scratch on it. She is going to keep our ’04 for now since she knows how to drive it well.
My company is getting new phones Friday, so I’ll do the bluetooth bit then and let you know if it really will download the phone list automatically. XM is great – wow, what a selection. You get it free for 90 days – then you have to subscribe. It’s a good marketing scheme to get you started – and I’ll bet most all will subscribe.
More later – you should have yours shortly, I would imagine. Black, huh. I was surprised how well I liked the Sandy Beach (gold) color. We’ve always had white cars (if you remember your physics – that’s the presence of ALL colors).
And yes, my new Prius will (hopefully) be black. Since my current one is white, I thought that was the next logical step.
By the way, if you want to buy the POG Prius, it’s for sale! Drop me a line at:
russell (at) priusownersgroup (dot) com
If you’re in the Lancaster, PA area and want to buy a great, used Prius. Here’s the rundown.
2005 Super White Prius
Grey cloth interior
iPod integration system added
Kenwood stealth subwoofer added in package tray under rear cargo area
New Bridgestone Insignia tires
Johnson films non-metallic window tint
The first person to show up with $15K in cash, gets it!
Posted on May 14th, 2009 No comments
1. the violation or profanation of anything sacred or held sacred.
NASCAR has announced that the vehicle leading the way to open it’s next big race will be the Camry Hybrid.
This is the first time a hybrid will be used as the official pace car during a NASCAR race. It will come as no surprise that some NASCAR fans are aghast at the idea of a hybrid, much less a Toyota leading the way but it’s difficult to imagine a real reason why this shouldn’t happen. Other than, of course, some kind of misplaced loyalty to GM. Most of those same folks have no problem with a Chevy built in Mexico being a pace car but a hybrid built in Kentucky, perish the thought.
Posted on May 6th, 2009 No comments
Edumunds Inside Line continues to astound me with, well, see for yourself.
This is bold, first paragraph from the story…
Hybrid sales in the U.S. rose in April for the fourth consecutive month and posted the highest monthly volume since October 2008. The bump illustrates the influence that novelty and price still have on the market: The all-new 2010 Honda Insight and a heavily incentivized Honda Civic Hybrid largely account for the gain.
Eh? What? Hybrids are price competitive or so I’m told in nearly every bit of the mainstream media. Yet here seems to one source telling hybrids are selling because of price? Novelty? For whom? It’s 2009, hybrids aren’t a “novetly” anymore. They’re just another car. And there’s a lot of them on the road.
And the second line, the Honda Insight and Civic are what drove this increase?
Well, not so much. From the same story just a few more lines into it…
Toyota’s Prius, due to be replaced by an all-new, next-generation model by the end of this month and helped by big incentives in some markets, continued to be the top-selling hybrid in the nation, although April sales of 8,385…
And as it turns out, the top four selling hybrids, in order of sales were, Prius, Civic hybrid, Camry hybrid and Insight (Source, the same Edmunds story).
Posted on March 12th, 2009 No comments
The CEO of the Korean electronics giant, LG, said recently that nickel metal hydride batteries were “primitive” and would be soon replaced by “advanced” lithium-ion batteries for use in the electrification of vehicles. This comment was pure hype and was biased by the fact that LG has won the contract to supply lithium-ion batteries for the 40 mile range, pricey golf cart performance matching Chevrolet Volt. The aforesaid CEO does not, of course, want to take note of the fact that the development of “advanced” nickel metal hydride batteries has continued even beyond their “primitive” use in the hybrids mass produced and sold as the Toyota Prius, Toyota Camry, Ford Escape, Mercury Mariner, Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, and Honda Insight to name the most prominent. These so-called “primitive” batteries have a record of reliability, durability, overall life, and recyclability that is second to none. In addition their pricing has steadily dropped(!) since their introduction.
Toyota, for its part, says that the NiMH battery in the 2010 model is a significant improvement over the currently supplied NiMH battery.
Posted on February 17th, 2009 No comments
This mcnewspaper article explores what is an American car and while it’s mostly what you expect from fast food journalism, it does make one interesting point that we don’t hear much. Defining what is an American car isn’t what it used to be. When the Camry is built here in the US and the Dodge HHR is built in Mexico, is either car American?
Perhaps this point of this global cross-pollinization is that nationalism is the most important factor in considering a car anymore. Buying a Toyota doesn’t necessarily impoverish thousands of American auto workers (despite what cretinous and disingenuous Michigan congress people will claim) any more than buying a Ford guarantees those jobs.
Posted on February 12th, 2009 No comments
It seems that an industry that complains a lot about how it is less and less relevant would strive to get simple, basic facts right since that is the basis for their existence. Ah, not at U.S. News and World Report where coughing a line or two from Mcnewspaper or Car and Driver is enough. Add in a few impressions of your own and Voila! You have a revelatory report that the new Ford is the best hybrid ever!
Except it isn’t.
It costs more than than the competition and doesn’t beat their MPG numbers. It’s cool that it’s a Ford but the name badge along doesn’t make up for the fact that it gets lower MPG than the Prius (about on par with the hybrid Camry) and costs more.