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Toyota Was Reluctant to Affect Defective Product Repairs

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Los Angeles, CAToyota has been attempting to deal with unintended acceleration and various other performance problems inherent with the Lexus badge since 1999, according to the 5/23/10 edition of the Los Angeles Times. At one time the automaker appeared to be willing to address the allegedly defective Lexus ES only when owners actively complained, rather than undertaking a blanket fix for all cars in the fleet.

The LA Times reveals that a few months prior to the launch of the new 2002 Lexus ES, US-based engineers for Toyota forwarded a test report to Toyota headquarters in Japan. The engineers reported that in their view, the car shifted gears so roughly that the 2002 Lexus ES was "not acceptable for production."

Toyota moved to utilize only three motor mounts to secure the engine, rather than four. It also made various attempts to tinker with the software governing the shifting mechanisms, although critics suggested that the problem was mechanical, not software-related. Five years later, in 2007, the Lexus was back with four motor mounts.

The motor mount issue notwithstanding, days after the US engineers issued their grave assessment to Japan, the company issued a communiqué to its top managers indicating that in spite of the misgivings of US engineers, in Toyota's view the 2002 Lexus was "marginally acceptable for production."

The Times also reports that Toyota intended to limit the scope of repairs stemming from unintended acceleration and jerking shifts. "The objective will be to limit the number of vehicles to be serviced to those owners who complain, and to limit the per-vehicle cost," a Toyota staff attorney wrote in a 8/15/05 memo explaining the automaker's legal defense strategy.

Another former Toyota executive in the US suggested that the software repair Toyota was undertaking "should only be utilized for critical customer complaints." Remaining Lexus owners, who were less vocal about the problems with their allegedly defective product, were finally afforded a software upgrade in late 2003. However, the update was never identified as an entity to fix a defect, but rather as a "product enhancement."

Within a few weeks of the introduction of the 2002 model Lexus, automotive critics were writing about the luxury car's "jerky gears." By August of that year JD Power and Associates reported that complaints about the car's transmission had quadrupled, driving down the vehicle's ranking to 18th.

After two years of tinkering with the software, the vehicle engineering division at Toyota suggested on July 21, 2004, that the performance issues were related to the engine mounts. However, according to a memo by Toyota's outside counsel, based on a 2005 meeting involving two Toyota engineers, Toyota decided against actively addressing the mechanical problem "due to the complications as well as costs associated with a change from three to four engine mounts."

The redesigned 2007 ES, released less than a year later, had four engine mounts.

The 2002-2006 Lexus ES models later became the target of numerous lawsuits stemming from 49 injuries and the death of a pedestrian, allegedly from unanticipated acceleration and jerky gears.

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