Toyota needs Jack Davis

The Toyota move to stop production of many models is interesting. They’re handling the problem well in terms of retaining customer trust but as each day brings out more problems, methinks they’ve not hit the bottom of the pit yet. What a contrast to how Audi handled the exact same problem years back. They never really recovered from the fiasco of blaming their customers for the problem and never, ever doubting German engineering. You know that somewhere in Tokyo there’s an engineer sharpening his sword so when he falls on it, it will be painless. What Audi did was to tell their customers that they were stupid which is perhaps the dumbest thing you can do. I’m stupid for buying an Audi is what we all heard.

As a former engineer I can give you a decent opinion on what’s going on. Toyota simply doesn’t know what the solution is. They thought at first it was the floor mat problem or a sticky gas pedal and in fact, those designs might not be optimum. They have information now that says that isn’t the (only) problem. Thing is, they don’t know exactly what the problem is but they can’t duplicate it in the lab. Every engineer’s worst nightmare – you know a problem exists because it’s being reported consistently but you can’t get it to happen in the lab under controlled conditions so you don’t know how to fix it. To me, some of it sounds like timing problems – those would be the problems that occur when the hybrids are switching between battery and gas power; some of them sound like electrical interference problems – those problems that occur randomly. And of course there is the ever present software glitch. I have a mental image of the programmers at Toyota blaming the hardware guys and visa versa. Lots of yelling and rice bowls sailing around the lab. Interference problems are really a booger bear to isolate since the conditions at any given time and in any given car are likely to be different and not repeatable in the aggregate. I would expect the problems to be more difficult and frequent with hybrids where there’s some heavy duty electric power switching going on. Toyota needs to hire my buddy Jack Davis to jump on it. Jack could always fix stuff like this but it’s was never an easy, cheap fix.

I actually experienced the phenomena once myself about 5 years ago with our old Toyota. I was driving on I-4 with the cruise control on. As I approached an exit I tapped the brake to disengage the cruise control which it did and the car decelerated properly. We slowed down for a few seconds when all of a sudden it accelerated. I hit the brake again and it went back to normal operation. I assumed that for some reason or other, the cruise control re-engaged. It has never happened again but it was scary enough that I’ll never forget it. I’ve also experienced the floor mat problem but rather than accelerate, the problem I had was that the mat crept up under the pedal so when I showered down on it entering the Interstate, it wouldn’t depress properly so I couldn’t gain speed. Every now and again I feel the pedal getting non responsive and automatically reach down and pull the mat out.

And now a Honda recall! Man am I glad I bought Ford stock when it was bargain basement. Wonder how the Fed’s will deal with this now that they own an auto company and will benefit from Toyota’s pain? What we have here is a classic conflict of interest situation where the regulator has a vested interest in dropping the hammer.

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