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.zp8497586rq
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 19th, 2010 No comments
BBC World News Hour, one of my favorite shows called me to talk about the Prius braking issue. If you want hear the interview, here it is…
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.
Bob Wilson, one of the geniuses on the Prius Technical Group email list, with the use of an accelerometer claims he has managed to reproduce the 2010 braking issue. According to his findings when all the right conditions occur there is a 600 millisecond delay between the regenerative braking system and the stand friction braking system.
You can click on any of the graphs and see the in larger format.
Basically, what this shows is what we already knew. There is, in this case a 600 millisecond zone where the braking doesn’t increase (it doesn’t decrease either). Immediately after this the curve knees downward and the velocity of the vehicle decreases precipitously.
Again, this isn’t proof, per se, of anything we didn’t already know, just proof to confirm owners estimates the lag was about half a second long. Keep in mind, this is one test under one set of conditions and it is not necessarily indicative of what happen under different circumstances.
It’s clear that there is massive pressure for Toyota to address this issue and it’s clear to me that at this point, “education” isn’t going to cut it. They have to do something to change this lag time. From the reports I’ve read, new Priuses (made since sometime in December of 2009 to January of this year) have already incorporated a new set of ECU instructions that address this issue. More on that very soon.
This story on Prius Chat makes me happy and worried at the same time.
The ad agency representing 173 dealers in 5 Southeast states has told the local ABC affiliates to pull their commercials. The agency told ABC affiliates last week that the shift was due to “excessive stories on the Toyota issues.” Instead, the dealers have shifted their commercial time buys to non-ABC stations in the same markets, “as punishment for the reporting,” according to an ABC station manager.
Southeast Toyota (SET) comprises 173 dealers in Florida, Georgia, North Carollina, South Carolina, and Alabama.
On one hand, it is certainly their right and given the coverage, I’d say it was about time these dealers did something. The coverage has been insane and, what really irritates me, much of it contains numerous factual reporting errors. So these people are just protecting their own businesses. Good for them.
I do find it a little odd they’re moving the ads to other stations. What stations/networks? Fox affiliates here have been banging this story just as hard and just as stupidly (which is pretty standard for Fox stations).
Why not take that money to another venue entirely? Like, dare I suggest, the internet? Direct mail?
But I do find it disturbing that this is an attempt further blur the lines between editorial and advertising something which, as someone who has a lot of ties to both things, are already far too blurred together.
In this instance, it’s totally appropriate. In the future, who knows?