Sweet vindication. That's what Toyota is feeling today, but they're smart enough not to gloat.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the space agency NASA released today finds no electronic defect in more than 3,000 complaints against Toyota alleging sudden acceleration.
Toyota recalled more 8 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 to fix two mechanical defects--sticky accelerator pedal assemblies and floor mats that could trap the accelerator pedal in the down position. But critics continued to call for further investigation into possible glitches in the electronic throttle control that could cause the cars to unexpectedly speed up.
Toyota certainly dragged its corporate feet and stonewalled at the early stages of what became a full-blown crisis. Customer complaints were ignored. Not surprisingly, Toyota's intransigence deepened the crisis.
But sometime last February, the company astutely changed its crisis management strategy to go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate a renewed commitment to customer satisfaction and safety. At the same time, Toyota went "all in" in taking a hard-line fiercely denying that there could be an electronic defect at the center of the storm.
It was a monumental gamble. What if NHTSA and NASA today issued a report finding an electronic bug? The company would be excoriated for failing to fix the problem 12 months ago, and would face enormous liability for any accidents that had occurred during those 12 months.
As it is, Toyota has been vindicated. Sure, the plaintiff lawyer shills will continue to cry foul and call for further investigation. But really, after people who literally are rocket scientists have painstakingly reviewed case after case, interviewed thousands of drivers and examined thousands of vehicles, plus conducted numerous experiments--can anyone really doubt their verdict?
- Jon Harmon