Wednesday, April 7, 2010

United States Transportation Department Lies About Canada - or - Toyota Fouled Up. Again

This post is a little off-format for The Lemming's blog. Please bear with me.
What you think about the latest item in the Toyota meltdown may depend on where you read about it: and how much you read.

For example, a busy urbanite might assume that the American Establishment had spoken falsely about a Canadian enterprise:
"Toyota Canada and the United States Transportation Department are at odds about when the Canadian unit was first told to repair pedals on several models to avoid unintended accelerations...."
(Wheels, The New York Times blog)
Depending on a person's biases and unconsidered assumptions, that paragraph could be interpreted quite a few ways. Which is one reason why I generally read more than an article's lead. Nearly always, if I intend to remember what the writer said.

The next paragraphs of that post clarifies things a bit:
"...On Monday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the United States government will seek a $16.4 million fine against Toyota for failing to promptly notify it about accelerator pedal problems.

"The company did not recall vehicles in the United States because of accelerator problem until January. But Mr. LaHood said that repair procedures sent by Toyota to its Canadian operation as well as distributors in 31 European countries last Sept. 29 shows that the company knew about the issue much earlier. The secretary said those procedures were intended to address complaints that accelerator pedals could stick, causing engines to surge and vehicles to rapidly gain uncontrolled speed.

"But Sandy Di Felice, a spokeswoman for Toyota Canada of Toronto, disputed at least the Canadian portion of Mr. LaHood's remarks...."
(Wheels, The New York Times blog)
Me? I don't know enough to have a solid opinion. I think it's possible that Toyota, Canada, has very good reason to claim that it learned about their product's potentially-lethal glitch(es) as late in the game as plausible. Toyota won't be the only company with non-trivial fines and lawsuits before this is over. In my opinion. Toyota, Canada, could simply be following its legal department's advice and sticking to the story that they didn't know about the problems until it hit the American press.

I Like Canada - Really!

Experience has taught me that I'd better point this out:
  • I like Canada
  • I think Canadians are people, pretty much like
    • Americans
    • Samoans
    • Chadians
That last point is a sort of good news/bad news thing. On the one hand, I'm pretty sure that people everywhere have their own mix of virtues. I'm also pretty sure that people everywhere have their own mix of vices. We're not "all alike" in the sense of being identical or interchangeable.

But I'm about as sure as I can be, that there isn't a large group of perfect people anywhere on Earth.

I don't think America is perfect: and I don't think Canada is, either.

I wasn't trying to besmirch or belittle Canada or things Canadian.

What was Toyota Thinking?!

The Associated Press isn't perfect, either:1 but I'm inclined to accept the claims of this article as fairly reliable:
"Long before Toyota told U.S. regulators about sticking accelerator pedals, the Japanese automaker warned its distributors throughout Europe about similar problems, documents obtained by The Associated Press show.

"Concerns about sticking gas pedals and complaints from Toyota owners in the U.S. were rising at the end of 2009. The documents show that weeks earlier, on Sept. 29, its European division issued technical information 'identifying a production improvement and repair procedure to address complaints by customers in those countries of sticking accelerator pedals, sudden rpm increase and/or sudden vehicle acceleration.'

"Distributors throughout Europe and in Russia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkey and Israel received the technical information.

"In assessing a record $16.4 million fine on Toyota for failing to alert the U.S. government to the safety problems quickly enough, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood cited the warnings to the other countries. LaHood said Tuesday that Toyota made a 'huge mistake' by not disclosing the safety problems sooner.

"The timeline in the documents shows that Toyota said in October it had received three reports of sticking pedals in Corollas sold in the United States. It notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the cases in November.

"In November and December, Toyota engineers examined pedals from the Corollas and were able to replicate the sticking pedal problem in two of the three cases. The engineers 'concluded that the phenomenon experienced in the United States was essentially the same as the phenomenon experienced in Europe,' the document said...."
(AP) [emphasis mine]
I highlighted that last paragraph, because it shows that this may not be the same technical issue that's been plaguing the Prius.

Just the same: telling one set of countries about a potentially-lethal glitch, but not others? On the face of it, that's just not smart.

Sure: Americans have a thing about driving cars that could kill them. We don't like it. I can understand that a company might not feel good about sending out a non-positive message about their product.

But we like not being told about glitches even less. Particularly if folks in other countries were told, months before we got the message.

I realize that America has a reputation for not being quite as cultured and refined as, say, the French. But please, folks, remember this: quite a few of us can read, and we're not all that stupid.

Related posts:More:
1 That's putting it rather mildly. But in this case it doesn't look like The Associated Press is substituting the quirky assumptions of America's dominant culture for research.

Reporters and editors of the late 19th century might just simply 'know' that all "chinamen" talk funny, dress funny, and either work in a laundlee or on the railroad. (Reporters DON'T put terms like "chinaman" in their copy these days - if they plan to keep their jobs. And careers. I was trying to dramatize a point.)

Well, that sort of ethnic stereotyping is recognized as a clear sign of bias these days.

Today, we've got new stereotypes. One of them jumped off the screen and slapped me in the face about a month ago:
"...The Associated Press apparently came up with 'for most home-school parents, a Bible-based version of the Earth's creation is exactly what they want' from 'Federal statistics from 2007 show 83 percent of home-schooling parents want to give their children "religious or moral instruction." ' "
(A Catholic Citizen in America)
I suppose you could say I'm "biased" about homeschooling parents. I'm one of 'those people.' And I don't think we are anachronisms desperately clinging to the superstitions and fetishes of an outmoded past. I am also not at all surprised when a homeschooling parent doesn't approve of a textbook using Bishop Ussher's preferred version of reality in lieu of what the rest of us have learned over the last few centuries.

I don't, by the way, think that The Associated Press is 'plotting' against homeschoolers. I do think that their reporters and editors are appallingly clueless.


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