Toyota Appoints Panel to Review its Safety

Outside experts will offer advice on safety, recalls.

by on Apr.30, 2010

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater will head a new, outside panel investigating Toyota's safety problems.

An outside panel, comprised of a variety of experts from the safety, aviation, business and technology fields, will be empowered to advise Toyota how to deal with ongoing safety problems and what to do to prevent similar problems in the future.

The 7-member group will look at all aspects of Toyota’s operations, including internal policies that have delayed action on safety issues, as well as alleged – but so far unproven – issues with the computer control systems used in the maker’s vehicles.

“This is a very important company dealing with a very important issue,” Rodney Slater, the former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, who was asked to put together the panel, told The Detroit News.

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Another senior member of the panel will be Norman Augustine, who served 16 years as a technology advisor to the president, and later became CEO of Lockheed Martin, and Roger Martin, dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

Toyota’s ongoing problems have been linked to scores of deaths, as well as the recall of nearly 6 million vehicles in the U.S. alone.  Additional recalls have been announced in markets from Europe to China.  The new Brandz Top 100 study of brand value, released this week by Millward Brown, shows that the safety scandal has sorely tarnished Toyota’s image, leading it to drop from its top spot as the most valuable automotive brand to second place, behind BMW.

Meanwhile, federal lawmakers are working up legislation that would significantly increase the power of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to investigate potential safety problems, allow NHTSA to speed up the recall process and, if justified, significantly increase the fines levied against a maker for safety transgressions.

(Click Here for that story.)

Toyota agreed, this month, to pay a $16.4 million fine for failing to advise NHTSA about problems with sticky accelerators in a timely manner.  Though a record levy against a single maker, the penalty was nonetheless capped under current law.  Without such a limit, Toyota might have been fined as much as $13.8 billion.

NHTSA has been faulted for being too lax with the makers it regulates – and for letting Toyota off the hook on an earlier recall.  The agency has begun two studies of its own to see if Toyota has problems with its electronic controls, one in participation with NASA, the other with the National Academies of Science.

Toyota has vehemently denied its electronics have played a role in so-called sudden acceleration, blaming instead such mechanical issues as sticky accelerators and loose floor mats.

Industry insiders, meanwhile, have also pointed fingers at internal practices, which some believe were driven by Toyota’s desire to become the world’s largest automaker.  The company achieved that goal in 2008, pushing past long-time leader General Motors.  But Toyota’s current safety crisis began soon afterwards.

“At the end of the day, we have management questions here,” said Slater, who served under former President Bill Clinton as Transportation Secretary, a job that gave him oversight of the NHTSA.Toyota Appoints Panel to Review its Safety

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