Consumer Fraud

Confidential Toyota memo says electronic flaw caused sudden acceleration in test car

An internal Toyota document obtained and translated by CNN demonstrates that engineers testing a pre-production car experienced and noted an instance of “sudden unintended acceleration.” The confidential document, drafted in 2006, was never shared with U.S. officials investigating whether an electronic flaw could be causing Toyota vehicles to suddenly speed out of control.

Toyota engineers penned the document, relaying the results of a cruise-control test on a vehicle that would later be sold in Japan and Europe as the Lexus 460. “The cruise control activates by itself at full throttle when the accelerator pedal position sensor is abnormal,” the report says, later noting that a “fail-safe overhaul” would need to be installed on another model in production, which would later become the Tundra pickup truck.

Toyota has refuted CNN’s interpretations of the document, claiming it was mistranslated and that it actually has nothing to do with unintended acceleration. The carmaker even tried to prevent CNN from airing the report, to no avail.

CNN explains that the document was originally provided in Japanese with an English translation. In response to Toyota’s claim that it was erroneously translated, CNN had it translated by a Tokyo-based interpretation firm with technical, automotive expertise. That translation confirmed the original translation. Still, Toyota argued that both translations were wrong, prompting CNN to commission a third translation, this time from a U.S.-based firm with automotive engineering expertise. The results confirmed the other two translations. Toyota did not provide CNN with its own translation despite multiple requests.

Toyota has insisted that incidents of sudden unintended acceleration in its vehicles are caused by floor mat interference or sticky throttle assemblies, if not driver error. It launched one of the largest and costliest recall campaigns to fix the defects, but complaints of sudden acceleration kept coming. According to CNN, more than 300 reports of sudden unintended acceleration have been reported just since the beginning of 2012.

Tanya Spotts told CNN she thought Toyota’s sudden acceleration problems were a thing of the past, so she bought her dream car in June – a brand-new Lexus ES350. She owned the car for seven months when it suddenly lurched forward while she was pulling into a mall parking spot. The car smashed into a concrete wall and Ms. Spotts injured her foot from the strain of braking in an attempt to stop the car. Toyota alleges the car suddenly sped because Ms. Spotts stepped on the gas instead of the brake.