Federal safety regulators have reprimanded Toyota Motor Corp. for issuing misleading and inaccurate statements that no defect exists in the 3.8 million automobiles it voluntarily recalled on September 29 after a 2009 Lexus ES 350 sedan accelerated out of control in San Diego County, California, killing four people. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a statement that the Lexus and Toyota vehicles do, in fact, have an “underlying defect” that involves the design of the accelerator pedal and the driver’s foot well. Toyota officials, however, blame the accident and other uncontrolled acceleration incidents nationwide on the gas pedal becoming entrapped by an improperly installed floor mat.
In its recall, Toyota claims there is no problem with the accelerator itself but asks consumers to instead remove driver’s-side mats if the mat is incompatible with the vehicle and not properly secured; the automaker also posted a video statement which disputed news reports that the "unintended acceleration" could be linked to other factors, such as the electronic throttle control systems. NHTSA officials were thus prompted to issue a clarification and stated the matter will not be closed until Toyota addresses the defect and suggests a solution.
This incident may affect Toyota’s credibility because the automaker was alleging it had a clean record with the NHTSA when it actually did not. Toyota claims it never intentionally mislead the American public and is still developing vehicle-based remedies to ensure unintended acceleration events do not happen again; these remedies may include changes in the placement of pedals, or a change to the engine control software in the vehicles’ onboard computers. Since 2003, the NHTSA has investigated eight cases of unwanted acceleration in Toyota vehicles; two of these probes led to small recalls while the other six were closed by the agency due to no finding of a defect. In all of these investigations, the NHTSA did find that the Toyota braking system could lose most of its efficiency and power when the throttle is fully opened and that other aspects of vehicle design, such as using push-button ignitions, could add risk in sudden-acceleration events. In the San Diego County incident, officials found the pedal’s design may have had an enhanced risk of being obstructed by the floor mat.
The recall affects the 2007-2010 model year Toyota Camry, the 2004-2009 Toyota Prius, the 2005-2010 Toyota Avalon, the 2005-2010 Tacoma, the 2007-2010 Toyota Tundra, the 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350 and the 2006-2010 Lexus IS 250 and IS 350.