Toyota Motor Corp.’s tarnished image among consumers has just gotten a boost as NASA engineers just cleared Toyota of electronic flaws in its throttle control system. The 10-month probe into causes of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles turned up no electronic problems.
Rocket scientists called in by the Department of Transportation said sticky gas pedals and floor mat interference - both subject to recalls in 2010 - caused incidents of runaway vehicles. The scientists added that, in many cases, drivers mistook the accelerator for the brake.
Meanwhile, safety advocates and plaintiff attorneys who are suing Toyota over unintended acceleration in a multidistrict class action case are calling the Transportation Department study inconclusive.
The attorneys say that Toyota vehicles in unintended acceleration crashes have caused 89 deaths and 57 injuries since 2000.
However, Lance Fraenkel of YouGov/BrandIndex, a marketing firm that tracks the public perception of brands, believes that the NASA report gave Toyota a big lift in consumer esteem.
YouGov/BrandIndex saw the quick reaction to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's announcement that Toyota vehicles "are safe to drive." Since Toyota did not advertise during the Feb. 6 Super Bowl, Fraenkel said its improved perception is attributed to the NASA report.
In 2010, Toyota's scores as measured by YouGov/BrandIndex dropped from industry highs after the unintended acceleration controversy received widespread media coverage. [via autonews - sub. required]