General Motors’ ignition switch recall reminds of a similar action taken by Toyota four years ago over unintended-acceleration issues. Despite having only four casualties linked to the issue compared to GM’s 12, Toyota’s recall is considered as the benchmark immense recall of this time – because of the controversy it sparked as well as its scope and impact.
In GM’s case, the carmaker was able to determine the root cause of the recall from the start – faulty ignition switch. In Toyota’s case, the root cause was uncertain. At first, engineers suspected that trapped pedals cause vehicles to accelerate unintentionally.
They later said that the cause was sticky pedals. Skeptics, on the hand, suspect faulty electronics and claimed that Toyota was covering up big time. However, a study by NHTSA and NASA failed to prove the faulty electronics theory, although Toyota’s critics still adopt to the ghost-in-the-machine thesis, especially in current lawsuits.
The changing theories on what caused the unintended acceleration in Toyota’s small vehicles led to customer distrust and pandemonium. Following the first recall in the fall of 2009, NHTSA received tons of complaints, reaching its peak in the first quarter of 2010 at over 1,400 disgruntled owners. Prior to that, monthly complaints average at fewer than 50 from early 2004 through October 2009.
GM, however, is not experiencing similar events. Of course, the effects of faulty airbags could only be experienced when a driver crashes his unit. On the other than, unintended acceleration could be felt while driving, giving drivers a “feeling” of pedal misapplication, “unnatural” revving of the engine.
Shortly after the 2009 recall, Toyota has started recalling vehicles globally for all sorts of issues, sending the Japanese carmaker down in terms of quality perception and sales.