In our earlier post regarding Motor Vehicle Defect Petitions (MVDP) we noted that while there has been a modest increase in granting these petitions recently, the majority of MVDPs are denied by NHTSA. A pair of recent MVDP denials (here and here) as well as recent recall of Nissan Versas (here with a prior investigation of the same here) prompted us to look further into trends and developments related to brake pedals, accelerator pedals, and related assemblies.
As described below, since the Toyota Sudden Acceleration issues of 2009 and 2010, speed control components have continued to demonstrate significant product defects impacting millions of vehicles. However, the recall data doesn’t tell the whole story…
Prior Concerns Regarding Toyota Vehicles Suddenly Accelerating
Both of the above referenced petition denials provide background information regarding the well-documented Toyota Sudden Acceleration issues that resulted in several significant recalls, congressional testimony, fines, a compensation fund for injured victims, a $1.1 billion settlement with 23 million class action plaintiffs, and a $1.2 billion deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice.
It is widely known that certain Toyota vehicles were suspected of “unintended acceleration.” However, even after an investigation jointly led by NHTSA and NASA, the root cause for the reported incidents is still widely misunderstood. In a report published in February 2011, the U.S. Department of Transportation concluded that many of the incidents involving Toyota vehicles they investigated (using pre-crash EDR) were ultimately determined to be instances of “pedal misapplication.” This report notes:
“Pedal misapplication refers to a situation in which a driver intends to apply the brake and inadvertently applies the accelerator instead or, in some cases, applies both the accelerator and the brake at the same time (dual application).”
In fact, of the 39 incidents investigated in this report, the EDR data for 29 vehicles indicated there was no pedal application at all and 35 of the 39 had EDR data that indicated accelerator pedal application (not brake application).
A complete review of the Toyota Sudden Acceleration complaints, recalls, investigations and subsequent litigation is beyond the scope of this blog post. In this post we are interested in the trends in speed control components since 2010 to provide OEMs and their suppliers with a more complete understanding of recent trends and risks related to components controlling vehicle speed.
Technical Service Bulleting (TSB) Data
There have been a significant number of Technical Service Bulletins (TSBs) and Recalls involving brake pedals and accelerator pedals from 2011 to 2014. Based on Stout’s analysis, from 2011 through 2014 light vehicle manufacturers issued 85 TSBs involving or related to brake or accelerator pedals involving over 200 vehicle models (with model years dating back as far as 1995). In 2014 alone, 37 models (over 11 model years) were affected by TSBs involving brake pedals and accelerator pedals (a subset of speed control components).
The TSB descriptions are varied. Provided below are several examples:
Stout auto recall experts reviewed the TSB verbatims / descriptions and found that many of the recent TSBs involve issues with devices that monitor or control the transmission of information from the pedals to the brake or engine. This is an important development that we will discuss further below.
Stout identified 26 recalls involving speed control components since 2011. We have excluded five recalls related to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard 114 in which the defect relates to circumstances where the gear selector can be moved from the Park position without pressing the brake pedal. Excluding these, there have been 21 relevant recalls from 2011 through 2014. The chart below illustrates the number of recalls for each OEM and the number of units affected for those recalls we identified.
A detailed review of each recall is beyond the scope of this post. However, the recalls generally involve either the need to further secure floor mats or issues with the brake booster that could impact brake performance.
Conclusion – What Does All of This Really Tell Us
For suppliers either already providing speed control components, or those interested in supplying these parts, there are valuable insights in this information. First, it is important to recognize that NHTSA and OEMs have access to significant additional information not made available to the public. In addition, any particular TSB or recall has likely undergone significant engineering review and data analysis before being initiated. Therefore, it is usually not possible to definitively determine root cause or defect responsibility solely from this data.
However, there are trends and insights that can be gained from a detailed review of this information. The data indicates that there has been a consistent need in the industry to address defects involving or relating to brake pedals and accelerator pedals (and other speed control components). Many OEMs in the industry appear to be addressing these concerns or issues primarily through Technical Service Bulletins and, to a lesser extent, recall.
The greatest insights from the data appear to be in the verbatims to the TSBs. In years past, it appears the issues with these components were more frequently related to issues with floor mats, sticky pedals, soft pedals, etc. In recent years, there has been an increase in TSB activity associated with control modules responsible for speed control performance and monitoring. For suppliers of these components, this may present unique issues regarding root cause analysis, warranty data review and diagnostics, and collaboration with OEMs regarding component integration. Reviewing these data and descriptions in combination with other data sets (such MVDPs, 573 letters, Investigations, EWR, etc.) provide suppliers and OEMs with unique opportunities to identify industry trends with competitors and suppliers, enabling them to understand competitive advantages, engineering enhancement opportunities, product defect risks, and potentially new sales opportunities related to speed control components.
Neil Steinkamp is a Managing Director at Stout. He has extensive experience providing a broad range of business and financial advice to corporate executives, risk managers, in-house counsel and trial lawyers. Steinkamp has provided consulting services and has been engaged for several years as an expert in numerous matters involving automotive warranty and recall costs. His practice also includes consulting services for automotive OEMs, suppliers and their advisors regarding valuation, transactions and disputes. Mr. Steinkamp can be reached at +1.646.807.4229 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
 NHTSA Toyota Pre-Crash EDR Field Inspections During March – August 2010
 NHTSA Toyota Pre-Crash EDR Field Inspections During March – August 2010, Page 14
 NHTSA Toyota Pre-Crash EDR Field Inspections During March – August 2010, Page 15