Toyota Planted Drivers' Fault Story...

...or didn't they? If proved to be true, the following story might damage the Japanese manufacturer's image perhaps even more than the infamous “unintended acceleration” recall. Long story short, Toyota planted the “drivers' fault” story ran yesterday by The Wall Street Journal and picked up later by several publications.

According to, citing an unnamed NHTSA spokeswoman in Washington, the story had been made up by the Toyota PR machine and, even more, the NHTSA knew the story would be run.

"That story was planted by Toyota," the spokeswoman told "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."

Truth be told, it's hard for anyone to take sides on this one. Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal, a publication with an otherwise clean sheet, cited an internal NHTSA person saying the US Department of Transportation (DoT) had been looking into dozens of data recorders from Toyota vehicles and found that throttles were wide open and that the brakes were not applied at the time when the crashes occurred. Ergo, drivers' fault.

It is exactly that NHTSA source which is currently under scrutiny.

So far, there is no official reaction from Toyota, nor did a named source of the NHTSA or DoT stepped forth denying or acknowledging something, anything. Far from deepening the mystery surrounding the “unintended acceleration” issues, this cat and mouse play of internal and unnamed sources does nothing but confuse customers.

Simply put, Toyota's mistakes caused unintended acceleration and killed. That's almost proven fact. We are pretty sure, however, that not all complaints regarding the issue have been accurate and in some cases drivers are to blame.

As for the planted story, we all must be aware that nobody does anything in the absence of a purpose, a goal or something similar. Toyota's recall, huge as it was, was pretty much forgotten. Toyota recalled, fixed and is now moving on. As do customers.

Sure, the investigation is still ongoing and it may still hold many surprises. But we tend not to buy into the planted story... Not in the absence of hard evidence. We doubt a company the size, value and reputation of Toyota would risk everything to plant a story for the sake of “we told you so”.

We doubt Toyota would plant a story which would eventually be proved wrong by the actual investigation results. And, in the end, we doubt people who “leak” info, but not their own names, in such sensitive matters.

So, the Wall Street Journal story is either true, regardless of the source (NHTSA, Toyota's evil PR machine) or it isn't, in which case the carmaker has plausible deniability (remember WSJ cites an NHTSA source). We reckon the story has some truth in it and, if it was planted by Toyota, it was planted just because it has some truth in it.

Of course, you don't have to agree with our conclusions. That's what the comment box below this text is for. Use it and let us know where you stand on this.

UPDATE: NHTSA Administrator David Strickland told Freep that his agency is yet to reach any conclusion regarding the investigation.

"We are in process [of investigating], internally and with NASA, and we have several more months to go."

UPDATE 2: Spokesman Mike Michels admitted in an interview with The New York Times that Toyota has indeed found evidence of unintended acceleration in some of the 2,000 vehicles it looked into so far. Without disclosing the number of vehicles which experienced such issues, Michels also says that some (most, to be more precise) of the cases under investigation pointed to "pedal misapplication."
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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