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Just how worried about sales is Toyota?

Worried enough that they put out an odd mid-month press release that seems to say "Don't panic."

Toyota has issued an unusual press release on its media page that promised better sales for the month of March. Although companies do offer stock-related warnings and updates sometimes, that isn’t what this is. This is Toyota telling someone, we are not sure who, that all is well and not to panic. We have a sneaking suspicion it is Toyota reassuring itself.

As we have duly reported in a couple of different articles, Toyota’s sales are down. That alone is not really news in a general sense. The car-buying bubble has burst, and most car makers are seeing a slow-down in either the rate of growth of their sales, or sales as simply down compared to last year. The real story here is that some very popular models that make up a big part of who and what Toyota is have tanked. Most notably the Prius.

All is not terrible. Lexus has a lot of new models and the IS and GS sports sedans have exceeded everyone’s expectations and sales are way, way up. On the Toyota side, Tundra pickup truck sales are up. However, the Tacoma is down considerably, and Chevy is about to launch a direct competitor to the Tacoma that beats its pants off on a specification sheet. We know Toyota will respond with an improved Tacoma, but it better hurry. Waiting until the Chevy Colorado hits the street may be a bad move.

Commenting on the better outlook for March Bill Fay, Toyota division group vice president and general manager, said “Traffic at dealerships is picking up nationwide, which will benefit industry sales in March. At Toyota, we see retail strength in pickups and SUVs, and strong momentum for Camry.” Notably Mr. Fay did not say that the Prius is back to where it has been for some time.

Official sales for the month will be published by Toyota next week. We will cover the story as it develops.

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Parris Boyd (not verified)    March 26, 2014 - 1:46PM

A drop in sales SHOULD happen, especially as word gets out about renowned computer expert Michael Barr finding bugs in Toyota's electronic throttle control software. So far, there's been a news blackout, but word is spreading thanks to bloggers, whistleblowers, and Mr. Barr's peer publishing his findings - along with their support - in trade journals. These findings led to the billion dollar economic loss settlement in Dec. 2012, the guilty verdict in the landmark sudden unintended acceleration case last October in Oklahoma (there was also that pesky evidence of 150 feet of skid marks from the plaintiff's tires), and are responsible for putting the Recall King in its current settlement mode regarding hundreds of remaining sudden unintended acceleration cases, and the federal criminal probe. Mr. Barr will be the featured guest at the EE Times conference March 31st - April 3rd. I've been blogging about Toyota for quite some time - search "Beware of Toyota. Their next victim may be YOU..."

John Goreham    March 26, 2014 - 3:20PM

In reply to by Parris Boyd (not verified)

Thanks Parris. Although I don't agree with your general view of the issue, I will point out we have covered the sudden acceleration issue all along including the agreement by this week by Toyota with the government over part of that issue. I did a quick search just as a reality check and there were lots of stories here at TN about this issue. What really surprised me were the stories about other manufacturers also investigated for sudden acceleration issues. If there is a news blackout we didn't get the memo.

Parris Boyd (not verified)    March 26, 2014 - 6:08PM

In reply to by John Goreham

John, as have most media - especially those that are motor vehicle oriented - I'm sure TN has done stories about the sudden acceleration issue. Has TN covered Michael Barr's findings? That's where the news blackout has been. I receive TN's posts on Facebook, don't recall seeing any articles about Mr. Barr, and a quick Google search didn't produce any. Could you gimme a link or two?

John Goreham    March 26, 2014 - 7:34PM

In reply to by Parris Boyd (not verified)

Sure. One case in which Michael Barr testified against Toyota is the Toyota vs Bookout case in Oklahoma. In that case a split jury that met the legal minimum for an award decided against Toyota. It was notable partly because it came within a week of Toyota winning another unintended acceleration case. We covered the story and reported that Toyota lost the case pointing out it was important because it was the first that Toyota lost that pointed to a problem with the ETCS. In the story, we printed quotes by both the Lawyer for the Bookouts and also a statement by Toyota. Maybe the lawyers for the Bookouts chose not to name Mr. Barr for some reason, but why would they? He was not their only expert witness. We also included a link to another news outlet that went into more detail about the significance of the ETCS. There are gobs of stories on this and if you Google "Michael Barr Toyota" it comes up. Here is the link to the story we ran.
You asked for a couple, so I will include this link, though I am not saying it is from the mainstream media. It appears instead to be a sort of infomercial done by lawyers profiting from suing Toyota. Michael Barr is mentioned on the second page:

Parris Boyd (not verified)    April 4, 2014 - 3:23PM

In reply to by John Goreham

John (wasn't aware of problems publishing links or this woulda appeared earlier), I'm quite familiar with the Bookout case - been bloggin' 'bout it for months. Here again, most media covered the case - along with TN. And most media - along with TN - not only neglected to mention Michael Barr - he was the lead expert - and his findings, but also left out any mention of Bookout's efforts to stop her car, evidenced by 150 feet of skid marks from her tires. EDN Network - a trade journal for electrical engineers - published an excellent article shortly after the case in Oklahoma ended. Search "Toyota's killer firmware: Bad design and its consequences," by Michael Dunn. EE Times is another trade journal that has dared to discuss technical evidence that's apparently off limits to mainstream media. I'm familiar with articles - including the one you mention - from the law firm that won the case in Oklahoma. Such articles, as I'm sure you're aware, would hardly qualify as mainstream media. Searching "Michael Barr Toyota" I found only one somewhat mainstream publication - San Diego Source (certainly not in the same league as NY Times, etc.) - that gave a comprehensive account of what happened at the Oklahoma trial. Search "Software bugs found to be cause of Toyota sudden acceleration death," by Phil Baker. The mainstream media news blackout regarding evidence of bugs in Toyota's electronic throttle control software is continuing. Don't get me wrong - I like TN, and will never forget Armen publishing an article I wrote, "Toyota Losin' for a Reason,",referencing engines disintegrating in MR2 Spyders. I proudly commended TN in my blog post, "Toyota can run, but can't hide," and have a link to my TN article via my blog's "Shhh..." section.

John Goreham    April 4, 2014 - 3:50PM

In reply to by Parris Boyd (not verified)

One reason that some people don't focus too much on the software issues relate directly to something you mentioned. Efforts to stop the vehicle. I've never seen anything by M. Barr, or others that suggested that Toyota had a problem with software that disable the vehicle's braking. Car magazines and others have shown in testing that when a driver applies full braking, and also full power, in any passenger car, it stops. Stopping distances are lengthened somewhat. Not dramatically, and not much if the car is not yet going fast. Many of us believe that the majority of these cases are pedal confusion. Above you mention skid marks. Bookouts' 2005 Camry had antilock brakes - as all 2005 Camrys do. The driver admitted to setting the parking brake. That is why there was a skid mark. Parking brakes can lock a single, or sometimes both, rear brakes because they are separate from the main braking system (they use mechanical linkage). If Bookout had been applying full braking there would be no skid mark. Anti lock braking systems do not leave "150 foot skidmarks." I look at this case as a clear pedal confusion case. The jury disagreed. M. Barr never proved that Bookout's Camry suffered any software related failure. He built a case saying that the software was buggy. He is right about that. - - - Back to the main point - "How worried is Toyota that sales were down in Jan and Feb". They are up again. 8.9% this month on a daily sales bases. Best March since August 2008. Number one retail brand, meaning more families and people bought Toyotas last month than any other brand (in America). I do not agree with your supposition that people are not buying Toyotas due to the sudden acceleration issue. I respect your opinion and your passion though ,and I appreciate your taking time to comment. I mean this sincerely, I would like to know what you think about this GM recall issue. I suspect it is a bigger deal.

Parris Boyd (not verified)    April 4, 2014 - 4:35PM

In reply to by John Goreham

Civil cases rise or fall on a "preponderance of the evidence," and I'm confident the jury got it right. Toyota's sudden and continuing "settlement mode" after the verdict tends to support my conclusion. Regarding March sales, they were down 2.9 percent for Toyota brand cars, and a whopping 16 percent for the much ballyhooed Prius, which has figured prominently in the sudden unintended acceleration issue. As for GM, I think we have further evidence of a corporate-controlled government that mouthpieces for business interests at the expense - monetarily and physically - of consumers.

Parris Boyd (not verified)    April 4, 2014 - 8:49PM

In reply to by Parris Boyd (not verified)

John, when full braking and full power are simultaneously applied, the notion that brakes will prevail, with a nominal increase in stopping distance, is a myth. One test I found showed the stopping distance increased from 140 (normal) to a whoppin' 500 feet. Search "Video: Consumer Reports demonstrates how 'brake override' stops runaway cars." The other test showed 127 feet (normal) to 507 feet. Search "GM tests Pontiac Vibe brakes against unintended acceleration in wake of Matrix recall." Emphasizing the need for a brake override (Bookout's Camry didn't have one), the first article raises another issue: "While Toyota has pledged to make it standard on all future production starting with 2011 models, we wonder why they haven't done so earlier."

John Goreham    April 5, 2014 - 10:18AM

In reply to by Parris Boyd (not verified)

Here is a Motor Trend test: I like this one because it includes all the most common passenger car tests and it shows how much farther the cars take to stop. Look closely because it includes cars with brake over-ride and those without. Otherwise the Camry looks too good in the test. No doubt that brake over-ride helps. Also, no doubt that car with a wide open throttle still stops if full braking is applied. - - Here is another test. This one includes more powerful cars including a V6 Camry - In this one it is important to know what a Roush Mustang is. This test is good because it illustrates that even very powerful passenger cars stop from 70 mph very reasonably when both full brake and full throttle are applied.

Parris Boyd (not verified)    April 6, 2014 - 3:02PM

In reply to by John Goreham

It seems there are differences that may be attributed to different test drivers, which brings up the larger point: In a real-world situation, a panicked driver will probably pump the brakes and apply varying amounts of pedal pressure, thereby making stopping distances anyone's guess. Toyota is negligent for not installing brake overrides as standard equipment long before it did so, and I'm delighted to see crooked corporations like Toyota, GM, and their government friends exposed for unscrupulous business practices.

John Goreham    April 6, 2014 - 4:14PM

In reply to by Parris Boyd (not verified)

No malice intended in my replies, just like the dialogue - Assuming the car somehow took control of the throttle and made the car accelerate, if the driver of a Camry put the brakes on firmly it would dramatically slow down. Why would they pump? Why would anyone pump brakes anyway in the era of anti-lock brakes "Stomp & Steer". Just for grins and giggles, if you look at M Barr's study of the software he surmised that during the sudden acceleration he imagined, that if someone did step of the brake and then back on that he thinks the throttle would close. He argued nobody would do that. - - On another topic, is every car maker right now that does not include every proven safety device unscrupulous? BMW's 5-series does not have standard back-up cameras, but the Toyota Corolla does. The Tesla Model S has no forward collision mitigation - even as an option - but the Subaru Outback does. Brake over-rides were not required by any law in 2005 and remember, brake overrides do not work at all when a person is flooring the gas, thinking they are stepping on the brake. Which is why there are still many cases of people accelerating into building, pedestrians, etc. in new cars. Forward collision mitigation does help with that on some cars today, but not all - are all the automakers now guilty of unscrupulous business practices?

Parris Boyd (not verified)    April 7, 2014 - 10:58AM

In reply to by John Goreham

I wouldn't be surprised at anything a panicked driver would do. Pumping the brakes must be fairly common or it wouldn't have been addressed, but Michael Barr was referring to an unintended acceleration event occurring while the driver had their foot on the brake. Unscrupulous behavior revolves around misrepresentation, as opposed to whether or not various options are offered. GM apparently knew about the ignition problem and covered it up. Toyota refuses to address compelling evidence of electronic issues, presented not only by Michael Barr, but also by Dr. David Gilbert, who has - don't tell NHTSA - the support of NASA physicist Henning Leidecker. Search yesterday's St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, "A Carbondale professor, runaway Toyotas, and the hunt for "tin whiskers." The wrongdoing Toyota admitted to in the federal criminal settlement would exemplify what I consider unscrupulous behavior, not to mention Toyota's continued stonewalling about engine failures in MR2 Spyders. Hot off the press, a class action lawsuit has just been filed because Toyota stonewalled about excessive oil consumption resulting from defective piston rings in a number of models. Search "Toyota Hit with Class Action Lawsuit over Oil Consumption Defect." Real hoot seein' word get out about the way automakers like GM and Toyota cover things up.

Parks McCants    March 26, 2014 - 5:19PM

For me and hopefully most consumers, popularity of a model or manufacturer as indicated by monthly sales numbers should be secondary to sales generated by a return and expanded customer base. Driven by: Initial quality and reliability in direct relationship to the price paid for the product. As a former service writer at the wold's largest volume Toyota dealership, I must confess that the customer often came second to dealership service generated profit. Managers and master mechanics a-like, purchased if they could, Toyota products manufactured in Japan. The quality at that time was measurably higher than the " assembled in America" Toyota. As to the malfunctioning " throttle by wire." a sad development to be sure. But truly what boarders on heinous here, is corporate's blind eye and total lack of transparency in the defect. Lawyers... Looking to most major recalls over the last year or two, the majority is linked to software malfunction or miss-programming. Much of that software is outsourced.
Perhaps the industry should kick up the $ paid to Jobbers. Only then will the over-all quality of outsourced parts meet higher criteria.