"Today, General Motors is back on top as the world's No. 1 automaker. Chrysler has grown faster in the U.S. than any major car company," reported the President in the State of the Union last night. Great news for auto workers. I’m sure no one would attribute any of that success to GM and Chrysler deciding to wipe out the legal rights of a few hundred people – including children – who were seriously injured or killed due to vehicle defects.
On the other hand, Toyota’s downfall was clearly a big factor in GM’s rise to #1 again. And while most of this is attributable to the Japanese tsunami, Toyota – and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - continue to battle with auto safety advocates over still-lingering questions about the very odd sudden acceleration problem and the company’s response.
Reports the New York Times, Safety Research and Strategies has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against NHTSA trying to find out if the agency has been withholding information “that may depict an acceleration incident caused by electronic systems in a Prius instead of the floor mats or pedals covered by Toyota recalls.” Specifically, they’re seeking “transcripts, recordings, photographs and videotapes generated by a visit of two federal investigators to the home of a senior government official who had complained about sudden, unexplained acceleration of his own Prius,” which happened several times on one 200-mile trip!
“The engine started to rev — actually almost roaring — and the vehicle picked up speed,” he said.
He noted that the accelerator pedal was neither stuck nor constrained by the floor mat. “The floor mat wasn’t up against the accelerator pedal,” he said. “I put my toe up against the back of the accelerator pedal to see if it was stuck. It was not stuck; it was fully up.”
NHTSA has dismissed all concerns that sudden acceleration incidents have been caused by electronic systems, as has the National Academy of Sciences. However, as the Times notes, NAS also “concluded that federal regulators were ill equipped to detect problems in the increasingly complex computer systems of modern automobiles.”
“This is all about transparency,” said Sean Kane, co-founder of Safety Research, an auto consulting firm in Rehoboth, Mass. “This is an agency that selectively releases data that fits its narrative that electronics are not at fault in sudden acceleration.”
Hope they get what they need.