WASHINGTON With accusations flying that Toyota knew about throttle problems earlier than acknowledged and growing concerns about whether electronics might be contributing to sticking gas pedals, analysts say the massive Toyota recall illustrates how slowly car makers move to fix safety problems.
"Auto makers are still too slow to recognize and respond to quality and safety problems, and are too quick to shift the blame onto their suppliers," concludes Joe Barkai, an auto industry analyst with IDC Manufacturing Insights.
Car makers "must leverage all available sources to glean information about their products lifecycle, especially once a product has been placed in service," Barkai said. "Warranty returns, field repairs, customer complaints and similar information must be used to detect quality and safety issues and to improve current and future product design, manufacturing, and channel operations."
Barkai stressed in a report that automotive electronics will become even more pervasive as new hybrid, electric and fuel cell technologies are deployed in new cars. Hence, the auto industry must boost its investment in consistent data collection methods, advanced analytics and new techniques for tracking design and manufacturing data to pinpoint which vehicle models need to be recalled.
Meanwhile, concerns are mounting that electronic throttles may be playing a role in sticking accelerator pedals, prompting the recall of about 2.3 million Toyota vehicles. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is reportedly looking into complaints about electronic throttle controls. A House committee is also probing these reports.
Toyota executives have repeatedly denied that electronics are involved in the throttle problem. The Japanese car maker has begun installing a mechanical kit it says will fix the sticking gas pedal.
Nevertheless, concerns about electronic throttles are growing, including fears about potential electromagnetic interference with auto electronics.
"It really appears that there is a problem in the electronics," Joan Claybrook, former NHTSA administrator, told the Washington Post on Wednesday (Feb. 3).