Monday, February 14, 2011

Ray LaHood, The Media & Congress Owe Toyota an Apology

You may have seen it on TV or maybe even a newspaper that Toyota was exonerated from safety concerns about their electronic throttle controls. I say “may” have seen it because the media downplayed this just as badly as they hyped the lies about Toyota having unsafe cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Association (NHTSA) commissioned NASA to study whether or not any sudden acceleration problems could be caused by the electronic throttle control systems in Toyotas. This is the same system that most other manufacturers now use. Our nation’s top scientists studied this possibility for 10 months and concluded this month that there are no defects and Toyotas are perfectly safe to drive.

The conclusion is that most of those cases of “sudden acceleration” were the fault of the drivers, not Toyota, and the rest of them were lawyers and car owners trying to make a fast buck by suing Toyota. In the vast majority of the accidents, the driver mistakenly stepped on the accelerator thinking it was the brake. This sort of thing happens every day, especially in south Florida where a lot of elderly people who shouldn’t drive do. Other “sudden acceleration” accidents were caused by customer or dealers accidentally using the wrong floor mats in cars or stacking more than one set of floor mats on top of the other. The terrible case of the highway patrolman’s family killed driving a Lexus in Texas was the fault of the wrong floor mats. The media jumped all over this one even though it was proven that the dealer incorrectly installed truck all-weather floor mats “upside down” in this Lexus. These were the only deaths caused by any alleged sudden acceleration event.

Toyota, Toyota dealers and their employees, and Toyota customers have suffered financially and emotionally from the irresponsible acts and suspect motivations of Ray LaHood, the chairman of NHTSA, the Congress, and the media. Ray LaHood, on national TV, actually told all Toyota owners to pull their Toyotas over to the side of the road, get out of the car, and don’t drive it again. I can still remember the panic of my customers in my dealership on that day. The phones were ringing off the hooks and some of my customers were literally in tears.

Toyota had to recall millions of Toyotas at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. Millions of Toyota owners were fearful of their “lives”, even being afraid to drive their cars to the dealerships to have them “fixed”. For my customers who were terrified to drive their cars, I sent my technicians to their homes or brought them a free loaner car and took their car back to my dealership. Even after the cars were “fixed”, owners were fearful of driving them because of the pure speculation that there might be something wrong with the electronic throttle control too.

Every time someone claimed their Toyota had accelerated out of control, the media headlined and featured the accusation but when the allegation was proven fraudulent or mistaken, they failed to mention this at all or buried it on the back pages.

Congress dragged the president of Toyota USA , Jim Lentz, and the chairman of the board of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, in front of the TV cameras and utterly humiliated them. The worst of these political hacks were the Congressmen from the Detroit, Michigan districts, Bart Stupak, and John Dingell. There hidden agenda was clearly to build up GM, Chrysler, and Ford by tearing down Toyota.

Toyota had no choice but to apologize and confess to a crime they didn’t commit. It would have been suicidal for Toyota to blame their customers for the problems of sudden acceleration. This would have whipped Ray LaHood, Congress, and the media into an even greater feeding frenzy and may have even brought down Toyota as big and powerful as they are.

Toyota’s false confession is analogous to the large number of false confessions by accused criminals. Many innocent men and women confess every day to crimes they didn’t commit. The police interrogators make it sound as if they have no alternative. They tell the accused that they have more than sufficient evidence to convict. They go on to say that they can get the judge to go easy on them if they confess and save the taxpayers the cost of a trial. Sometime they promise no jail time and probation, but a very severe sentence of they don’t sign a false confession. This occurrence is so common, that courts have held that a confession by itself is not sufficient to convict. There must be enough evidence to substantiate the confession. The famous novelist, John Gresham, just wrote a book on this very topic, Confession, which is on the NY Times best seller list.

I’m not deluding myself to expect that Ray LaHood, Congress, or the media would ever do the right thing and publically apologize to Toyota. Admitting you’re wrong and sincerely apologizing takes class…and as the old Frank Sinatra song, “Style”, goes…”You either got or you haven’t got class”.

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