Kurt Verlin

Could Tesla Be Headed Down the Same Path as Toyota?

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Tesla Motors’ T-Shaped Badge
Photo: EV Stories

In recent weeks there has been growing controversy and concern about the Tesla driver who crashed while using the Model S’s “Autopilot” mode and the claim of a Tesla car experiencing “sudden acceleration.”

So far, the cause of both crashes has been attributed to driver error. Joshua Brown, whose car failed to brake for a trailer that turned left in front of it, openly admitted beforehand that he didn’t pay attention to the road when his Tesla’s Autopilot feature was enabled, even though it warns drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and to be ready to take over at a moment’s notice.

Around the same time, a new owner who goes by the online name “Puzant” claimed that his five-day-old Tesla Model X electric SUV had experienced sudden and uncontrolled acceleration and crashed into a nearby nail salon—at least as his wife reported it. Tesla quickly released a statement that revealed “the vehicle was traveling at 6 mph when the accelerator pedal was abruptly increased to 100 percent,” suggesting that Puzant’s wife had simply pressed on the wrong pedal—something that happens more than you think.

In the U.S., a whopping 500 people die each year in car crashes caused by stepping on the gas instead of the brake, and a 2012 federal study found that this occurs far more often with women than with men.

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What’s interesting is that something similar had happened in 2010, when a veteran California Highway Patrol officer and his three family members died after his Lexus ES350 suddenly accelerated and crashed. This was after Toyota had recalled 3.8 million cars and trucks to change the floor mats and redesign the throttle pedal following reports that the mat could cause the pedal to get stuck.

Despite this, fear gripped the country after the 2010 incident and Toyota experienced an enormous spike in complaints for unintended acceleration, though it was found that the incidents were mostly caused by driver error or even drunkenness and that there was little substance behind the scare.

However, that didn’t stop Congress from shaking down Toyota for billions in legal settlements and recall costs—some of that money even went to help Tesla.

So could Tesla be headed down the same path as Toyota? I doubt it. Tesla is an American company and at this point, Elon Musk has garnered enough public confidence and awe that he could probably get away with worse. On the other hand, Toyota is a Japanese company and six years ago the country was knee deep in an economic depression. It’s unlikely the public will be nearly as willing to put Tesla to the stake as it was with Toyota.

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