Toyota’s Big Recall

WASHINGTON – For a century, the basic idea behind pressing the accelerator on a car has been pretty straightforward. What’s going wrong with some Toyotas isn’t simple.

Experts say the sudden acceleration problem that has put the brakes on Toyota sales and production is likely not a single problem but an alignment of complicated interconnected conditions.

Nothing illustrates that more than the contradictory statements from the two companies involved. Toyota Motor Corp. is telling the government 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.”

CTS Corp., the Elkhart, Ind., supplier that makes the devices for Toyota, said in a statement Wednesday 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.”

If there were a simple answer, a one-thing gone wrong glitch with a fix, it’s unlikely Toyota would be in the mess it’s now in.

When Toyota recalled 4.2 million vehicles last fall, it said it was because floor mats were interfering with the pedals. That may have been an issue, but now the company is saying it’s latest recall of 2.3 million vehicles is linked to worn pedal mechanisms that increase friction in certain conditions and cause the accelerator to stick sometimes.

On Thursday, Toyota announced it was extending the recalls to China and Europe and recalling an additional 1.09 million vehicle in the U.S.

Outside safety experts say possible causes also include the complicated electronic sensors that relay the message from the gas pedal to the engine, the design and location of the sensor system, a lack of a fail-safe override mechanism, and even a certain media-fed awareness that puts more people on the lookout for the problem.

Academic researchers say the rarity of sudden acceleration problems is a telling sign to the difficulty of determining what’s going wrong.

“This is very unusual and happens on a very rare circumstance, and a whole bunch of things have to happen simultaneously,” said Raj Rajkumar, head of Carnegie Mellon University’s automotive research lab. It’s like lots of unlikely lottery hits happening at the same time, but with millions of Toyotas, they do happen.

Sean Kane, president of Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a Massachusetts-based car safety investigation and advocacy group, said he’s certain there is no single cause. He said he’s logged thousands of stuck gas pedal complaints.

“We are convinced that this a multifaceted problem,” Kane said. “You’ve got a multitude of problems that are coming to the surface that result in one thing: unintended acceleration.”

How an accelerator pedal is supposed to operate is anything but complicated. Stepping on the pedal starts a chain of events to open the throttle, sending more gas and air into the engine. The car goes faster. Stop pressing on the gas, the engine’s speed decreases and the car slows down.

At first, the pedal was directly linked to the throttle, or hydraulics did the job. Then more than a decade ago, electronics started handling the relay. It’s part of an overall switch to computer controls seen throughout the transportation industry.

Most throttle systems on modern vehicles are electronic. Typically, the driver steps on the accelerator and gets resistance back from a spring. The movement activates components in the pedal assembly that send an electronic signal to the engine-control computer, and a signal from the computer feeds more fuel to the engine.

In documents provided to the government, Toyota indicated the mechanical problem that causes the pedal to stick occurs when water condenses inside the system when the heater is on. The company also thought a material used to make the pedal system was a problem, so it switched to a different material, but the problem persisted.

Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said Wednesday that the company wouldn’t discuss the mechanics of the pedal and the possible causes of the problem “because the engineering investigation is ongoing.”

Craig Hoff, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, Mich., said the pedal assemblies typically contain a Teflon bearing that would not be affected by temperature, so it’s unlikely the problem is connected to weather conditions. He has not specifically studied the Toyota case but said the problem could be linked to the mechanical spring that pushes back when someone hits the accelerator.

“If I was going to sit here and guess, I’d start thinking about something is binding — either there’s friction that’s too high somewhere or another issue is that spring is not strong enough to push back,” said Hoff, who has worked on accelerator systems.

The problem could also be connected to the electronics relay system — something Toyota highlighted in a video more than a dozen years ago touting its “electronic throttle control system with intelligence.”

A few years ago, the company sent out a technical bulletin saying some cars accelerate on their own between 38 and 42 mph, and it reprogrammed the electronics with new software codes, Kane said.

John Heywood, director of the Sloan Automotive Lab at MIT, said because Toyota is the only automaker having this problem, it could be something specific to its design, such as the location and integration of the electronics relay sensor.

“These are very complex systems,” Rajkumar said. “One ought to expect that there will be glitches like these.”

CTS, which relies on Toyota for 3 percent of its annual sales, supplies similar parts for Honda Motor Co., Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp.

But auto suppliers typically design parts based on the specifications of the individual automaker, and a part’s installation and operation can vary based on the vehicle. The three other automakers said they had received no complaints about their accelerator pedals.

A key problem appears to be the absence of a mechanism that overrides the accelerator if the gas and brake pedals are pressed at the same time, Kane said. In the recall last year involving floor mats, Toyota told the government it would retrofit some vehicles with that feature.

Such a mechanism, called a “brake-to-idle algorithm,” is an important fail-safe, Kane said. He said some other automakers already have them, and Rajkumar said more will install them in the future.

In the late 1980s, the government investigated complaints that Audi 5000 vehicles would suddenly accelerate when the vehicle shifted from park to drive or reverse. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that most of the incidents were caused by drivers putting their feet on the wrong pedals.

But the safety agency found that vehicle recalls were necessary for the safety of the Audi 5000, whose sales plummeted after a major 1986 recall. Audi modified the accelerator and brake pedals, installed systems that prevent shifting from park unless the brake is pressed, and corrected idle speed control systems to address the problem.

Heywood, who isn’t familiar with the specifics of Toyota’s situation but has studied sudden acceleration problems in other cars and was part of a panel looking into the Audi problem, said media attention caused more people to be aware of the Audi problem, and then more people reported it.

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Get Yourself Connected

Ford Transit Connect

Ford Transit Connect

Click Here To Listen to Review

We all know the old saying, give a man a fish… Well, Ford is teaching Americans how to fish like Euros. Ford’s new global platforms are coming to the states in mass. The Focus, Verve and Transit Connect are all recent passengers on the trans-Atlantic pipeline bringing big ideas for small cars to the U.S.

The Transit Connect is the most forward thinking, work gadget intensive vehicle I’ve ever driven. Start with the fact you can carry up to a 1600lb payload. What’s that, three quarters of a ton? In a tall minivan? Well, no, this is in no way a minivan. This is a work truck built to make money and make small business owners lives easier and less complicated.
Start with the Ford Work Solutions System. This very useful tool is borrowed from the full size truck line and it gives the driver of the vehicle help in remembering tools or any merchandise marked with a SKU sticker that may have been left on the jobsite. Each time the Transit Connect is started it automatically reviews all of the tools on board. This may be a carpenters square or a photographers extra lens. There is literally no end to this cool feature. Just ask any contractor what they spend replacing lost tools in a year and you will quickly grasp the value of the Transit Connects brain power.
Ford Work Solutions don’t end there. You are provided with a keyboard to access the on board computer that has a Microsoft Word program among many other apps. All of which are extremely useful in the trade industries.

Then, there is the scale, performance, and mileage of the Transit Connect. For starters, it’s small, easy to park and nimble. It drives like a small pick-up. Well, actually it drives better than that. It also sips fuel for a vehicle with this kind of load capability. Try 19 mpg city, 24 hwy. All this while enclosing 143 cubic feet of payload. Think about it, at 6’8’’ tall the Transit Connect can consume a piece of cargo 6.5 feet long and 4.7 feet wide. This could be anything.

Ok, so, it’s a little funny looking. Kind of looks like a rhino without the horn. Actually, it has a horn just not mounted on the hood. I’ve enjoyed tooling around in this van and it turns as many heads as the Mustang GT500 I had a couple of weeks ago. Sure, they are different heads but the interest is the same.

One lady at my son’s taekwondo class is a fleet manager for Lennox. She spent twenty minutes looking over the Samson of minivans. If you own a small business that requires you to haul various items and keep them organized and consolidated the Transit Connect is your huckleberry.

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GM: No free wheels for Woods anymore

The Associated Press
updated 10:24 a.m. CT, Wed., Jan. 13, 2010

NEW YORK – General Motors Co. says an agreement with Tiger Woods that allowed the fallen golf star to have free access to its vehicles is over.

Woods’ endorsement contract with GM’s Buick brand ended in 2008, but an arrangement remained in place that allowed him to keep several GM loaner vehicles. A spokesman says the arrangement ended on Dec. 31.

Woods has lost a host of endorsement contracts since the Nov. 27 car crash outside his Florida home. The accident triggered allegations marital infidelity that led him to take a break from professional golf, though the GM spokesman says the vehicle arrangement had been previously scheduled to end on Dec. 31.

USA Today reported GM’s decision in a blog post Tuesday.

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Mustang Shelby GT500

Mustang Shelby GT500

Ford Shelby GT500

Ford Shelby GT500

She broke my heart. She left me. I’ll probably never meet another like her. Yeah, she wore too much lipstick and sure she was a little flashy and quick as a coiled rattlesnake. But, man, could she turn heads. Everywhere we went together people would stop and look, smile and give the thumbs up sign. All the guys and many of the girls would give anything to be seen with her. But, she left me. So, screw her. No, I don’t mean that. I loved her, but, now she’s gone. Wonder if they’ll ever be another as fair.

The all new 2010 Mustang Shelby GT500 is gone. It has taken me a week to calm down enough to be able to be objective about this car. It quite frankly humbles people. Either those who drive it, or those who drive against it. It feels like Ford changed almost everything from the last edition of the GT500. The new car is more refined. there’s no clue of the 540hp that is waiting to be unleashed. That’s thanks in part to the new clutch assembly. In the previous model the clutch was a crippler. Having had a few back surgeries I found it very difficult to use. Not so with the new car. The clutch is almost effortless and the new short-throw shifter makes it a breeze to run through the gears. And best of all, the shifter is topped off with a que- ball made by some folks who make real que-balls.

I will say that it was the most peculiar assimilation of color I’ve ever seen. The test car was a red convertible with white stripes. Not bad, right? Well, the top was BLACK. Further complicating things were the smoke gray wheels. Not a great look. The coupe comes with better looking wheels. Maybe red with black stripes would have been better. For my money, the best looking convertibles are black…triple black. That would have been a great choice of color for this car. Sinister black.

If there is one thing that stands out about the car to me, it is the wide spectrum of interested parties. Everyone takes notice. In the parking lot or on the highway, the red convertible GT500 made people ask about it. Even some guy in the parking lot of Academy Sports, who was driving a BMW 335i, had to pay his respects. Moms and Grandma’s with cameras. This car got more looks than the all-new Camaro I was in a couple of weeks ago.

I’m seriously glad Ford decided to re-do the clutch. Same hydraulic clutch as before, they just made a smaller diameter slave cylinder which, oddly enough, makes the clutch easier to push. The fact that a car with this kind of power can be manipulated this easily is a sin. Hell, the clutch in the new GT500 is softer than the Dallas Cowboys in December.

As for what the clutch controls, the fire-breathing, manhood-wilting 540hp 5.4 liter four-cam killing machine. Well, it’s nice! It humbled a local power nut whose daily driver is a 630hp (est.) Ford Lighting with like a trillion pounds of boost going through a supercharger. Isn’t Ford great? Sitting on top of the GT500’s 5.4 liter motor is a super charger blowing an easy six pounds of boost. Imagine a little tuning there. There are stories on the internet…unbelievable, what this car is capable of.

But, if you just want to cruise around and know that you could embarrass many who are uninformed, then, do that. Go buy the new Shelby GT500 and just putt around town or lobe down the interstate. The interior of the convertible is church prayer quiet compared to other convertibles I’ve driven. That allows you to enjoy the fact that the seats are perfectly bolstered and extremely comfortable. Not to mention the sound system. That’s easy to enjoy.

Yeah she broke my heart when she left but….goodtimes
Although the Shelby GT500 isn’t eligible for the C.A.R.S. program I’m sure there are many Ford dealers happy to sell you one. Go see for yourself. And make her yours to keep.

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GM Says Saab Decision Due Later This Month or Feb.

The final decision on whether Swedish automaker Saab will live or die is likely to come later this month or in February, General Motors Co.’s top European executive said Tuesday.

But GM Europe President Nick Reilly said the longer the troubled brand lingers without being sold, the less likely a sale will be.

In another indication of Saab’s bleak outlook, GM also said Tuesday that two executives have been named to oversee the brand’s wind-down. The executives, Stephen Taylor and Peter Torngren, replace Saab’s CEO and board of directors and will be in charge of liquidating the brand, GM said.

GM started closing Saab operations last week but still is in talks with two possible suitors, despite Tuesday’s appointments.

CEO Ed Whitacre Jr. said last week that he was not optimistic Saab could be saved.

Reilly also told reporters at the Detroit auto show Tuesday that he expects to finish restructuring GM’s Opel operations this month. He says changes that combine GM Europe and Opel management will be announced Friday or Monday.

GM is trying to gain concessions from unions and loans from European countries as it restructures Opel.

GM has been trying to sell Saab for more than a year, but has entertained other bids after a deal with Swedish specialty car maker Koenigsegg collapsed last month.

Dutch automaker Spyker made a bid last week, as did Luxembourg private equity group Genii Capital and also emerged as a new suitor, saying it had teamed up with British billionaire and Formula 1 tycoon Bernard Ecclestone.

But GM announced last week that it had hired a company to start winding down Saab’s operations. The automaker employs about 3,400 people.

Reilly said while the negotiations continue, Saab continues to lose money.

“The longer it carries on as we start to wind it down, the more difficult it is for somebody to come along and buy it,” Reilly said.

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