Who among us — at least those of us who are “of an age” — has not sat before our computer and watched in bewilderment as it performed, unbidden, some bizarre function we couldn’t understand, couldn’t use and couldn’t correct?
It gave us pause to hear Toyota executives say with certitude that there is nothing wrong with the electronic throttle system of the cars that have experienced unintended acceleration. They said they know because there is no evidence. Despite testimony of an automotive sciences professor that he was able to induce a similar malfunction in the system, the head of sales in the U.S. insisted that this was not a “real world” situation, it wasn’t one that could occur during normal driving activity, and therefore it didn’t amount to evidence. Toyota was sticking to the tangible evidence surrounding the accelerator pedal assembly.
It is possible that we will never know for certain why the often tragic and always terrifying runaway engine incidents happened. In the 1980’s the Audi 5000 was plagued with a spate of runaway accelerations that resulted in injury and death. Audi’s initial and unwise response was to blame the drivers, suggesting that some drivers mistook the accelerator pedal for the brake pedal; the harder they tried to brake the car, the faster it went. The actual cause of the incidents, if they were not driver-initiated, was never found. No evidence. And it is possible the folks at Toyota are right. They are a technically pragmatic lot. The eventual Audi “fix” was to require the driver to press on the brake pedal before the car could be shifted into gear. But public confidence in the brand was lost and Audi sales dropped for a decade before the company regained its place in the high end of the market in the U.S.