You'll recall the recent slanging matches between, in no particular order, Toyota, the US Department of Transport and NHTSA, sundry officials at the automaker, Toyota chairman Toyoda-san, a US president, politicians various and the odd Capitol Hill subcommitee. All over those mat and accelerator pedal-related recalls.

A quarter century covering the autobiz has taught me that, every so often, a story rises up that you just know "has legs", as we used to say -ie it'll run and run. This one sure did. For weeks. Toyota, of which I can only say as charitably as possible, has not handled the PR as well as it might (its UK unit apparently deciding for a time that most recall media announcements had best be Tweeted, for gawdsake), ultimately stepped up to the plate, with not a little commendable effort from dealers, and made a mammoth effort to get replacement gas pedals and/or floor mats in as many customers' cars as possible, setting, they reckon, some industry records in the process and building, they claimed here in the UK, considerable customer goodwill. So I misguidedly filed it all away in the grey matter under 'done and dusted' figuring that, in due time, the US government investigations, and the automaker's, would see light of day, lessons would be learned, cars modified, regulations changed and that would be that. Wrong...

Now, this week in the US, it's gone all pear-shaped again. As our business editor Simon Warburton reported yesterday, after days on the phone to seemingly the entire autoworld, Toyota's PR machine is alleged, if I've got it right, to have "planted" a story in US media saying initial sudden-acceleration findings by the Department of Transportation (DOT), of which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is part, showed that drivers have been to blame for the unintended acceleration by pressing wrong pedals.

However, the NHTSA, the body responsible for examining the Toyota pedal problems in the US, has firmly rebutted claims the story came from the safety organisation.

"That story was planted by Toyota," an NHTSA spokeswoman in Washington told just-auto. "Toyota is the source - yes we know that for definite. It is [the] Toyota PR machine. We knew they were going to put it out."

A straw poll in the just-auto office suggested there are few drivers who haven't at some point got their pedals muddled and a similar suggestion was made about 20 years ago when Audi had its own 'sudden acceleration' allegations to deal with. The fallout from which we can thank for today's shift lever interlocks...

We asked Toyota Europe to elaborate but a spokesman declined to comment on the reports, though adding the articles had been read in Brussels.

"There have been conversations with Toyota in the US and Japan and people involved in the investigations but it is pretty hard from Brussels to have a view on what was said to whom and at what moment," the spokesman said.

"The story quotes a spokesperson so I assume there was some contact between [a newspaper] and Toyota. This seems a bit general but of course driver error could be part of it."

Where this all ends up, and we are awaiting a conversation with the DoT as I write, remains to be seen. But I hope it's not another PR snafu on Toyota's part - as a certain global, household name, consumer electronics maker has been learning this week, once loyal customers start thinking you're lying to them, they will turn on you to the point of demanding lawmakers take firm action.

Lots of news from the 'BRIC' 'emerging markets' we specialise in this week, especially India (and China, of course), including news of sensible cooperation between Tata and recent UK acquisition JLR on engine development. Under Ford ownership, JLR used a complex mix of BMW and, later, Ford/PSA JV-designed and made engines. When Tata bought JLR, deals were agreed to continue supply, mostly from UK factories as it happens, but the Indian automaker clearly wants to go 'in house' as soon as it can. Ford, GM, Toyota et al have already shown India can do driveline parts and assembly just fine in the volume sector so I can easily see UK designed and developed, Indian built engines in JLR's future.

Ford's British unit has welcomed the new coalition government's approach to automakers and yours truly, after British Airways' less than stellar keeping-to-schedule, got to fly to Frankfurt for Nissan's Juke show and tell. Had a first go in the Murano SUV as well. 'Better late than never' applies both to me finally driving a popular model that's long been a common sight in the US and the arrival of its long-awaited diesel option for us over here in Europe.

Have a nice weekend.

Graeme Roberts
Deputy/News Editor
just-auto.com
 

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