Consumer advocates have been highly critical of Toyota’s response to reports of unintended acceleration. Toyota has blamed the problems on everything from driver error to faulty floor mats. Most recently, Toyota told government officials that it thinks a friction problem in its accelerator pedal mechanisms may make the pedal “harder to depress, slower to return, or, in the worst case, mechanically stuck in a partially depressed position.” But a statement by its supplier, CTS Corp., said that the friction problem accounts for fewer than a dozen cases of stuck accelerators, “and in no instance did the accelerator actually become stuck in a partially depressed condition.”
The problems and recalls, as well as the way they’ve been handled, have shocked many Toyota customers, especially in light of the carmakers’ past reputation for quality. But a Japanese analyst told The New York Times in January that the issue did not surprise some industry insiders, who felt Toyota’s recent rapid growth could have an adverse impact on quality. There had been fears that the company was becoming “seriously outstretched” and “lacked the human resources and production capacity” for expansion efforts it had undertaken in recent years, the analyst said.
What has also been shocking is Toyota’s slow response to a safety issue that has put it customers’ lives at risk, and has already killed several. Some lawsuits allege Toyota has for years ignored reports of sudden acceleration. When it announced a round of recalls in January 2010, Toyota even admitted it learned of problems with accelerator-pedal assemblies from supplier CTS in late 2009, but said they were not enough to warrant a recall.