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Toyota's Troubles, Record and Recovery.

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Camry Hybrid

There's no denying the seriousness of the allegations against Toyota. "Unintended acceleration" is the type of incident that stimulates intense attention. Anyone who drives can imagine the abrupt fright that would surface if they stepped on the brake and, instead of slowing, the car roared ahead.

Without question, Toyota's initial response was hesitant at best, or callous at worst. Early comments sounded like attempts to evade responsibility rather than seek answers--at a time when the public is tired of people or corporations trying to weasel out of misdeeds. No wonder Toyota was hit in April with a $16.4 million fine for failing to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of a "dangerous pedal defect" for almost four months.

Toyota's situation is reminiscent of what happened to Audi in the 1980s, when charges of unintended acceleration emerged. With one notable exception, that is. A troubling number of observers--particularly those who advocate "buying American," have been gloating over Toyota's misfortunes. They appear to have been waiting patiently for Toyota--in so many ways the industry leader--to stumble and fall. Not unlike viewers of reality TV shows who happily wait for hapless contestants to humiliate themselves, it can be satisfying to see the "king" toppled.

While the recalls in 2010 were serious indeed, Toyota's numerical record has been better than many automakers. Some past models from the "Detroit Three," in particular, have suffered woeful recall histories--though many of those defects have been more trivial than threatening.

So, were the Toyotas involved in crashes actually defective, or were those incidents due mainly--or wholly--to driver error, mistaking the gas pedal for the brake? Arguments and accusations have been made on both sides, and investigations continue.

Regardless, for some, there will never be a resolution. Their minds are made up.

Victims of unintended-acceleration accidents involving recalled Toyotas, and their families, aren't happy with Toyota's response or with findings thus far. Citing "at least 93 deaths ... associated with the defect," they're urging Congress to pass the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 (H.R. 5381), dubbed the "Toyota bill." H.R. 5381 includes a comprehensive list of new vehicle safety standards, including "accelerator control and brake override systems."

Meanwhile, Toyota has not suffered nearly as much as anticipated. Toyota Motor Group (in Japan) has shown a second-quarter profit greater than $1 billion. Last year, Toyota lost nearly that much. Valuations of used Toyota and Lexus models declined early in 2010, but they've recovered smartly.



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