Toyota vindicated: Does it lose anyway?

Federal investigators found no evidence that faulty electronics were to blame when cars accelerated unexpectedly. Is the ruling too late to save the brand's reputation?

Toyota's profits reportedly dropped nearly 40 percent in its third fiscal quarter, just as the carmaker receives positive results from the 10-month federal investigation.
(Image credit: Getty)

A 10-month study by federal investigators found no evidence that malfunctioning electronic controls caused the "unintended sudden acceleration" experienced by some Toyota drivers. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with help from NASA, confirmed Toyota's own analysis that the real culprits were sticky pedals and interfering floor mats — and drivers who mistakenly pumped the accelerator rather than the brake. Toyota was forced to recall 8 million vehicles because of those mechanical problems, and paid nearly $50 million in fines for failing to promptly report and address the defects. Do the government's latest findings help vindicate the carmaker — or is it too little, too late? (Watch the government's announcement)

The report is a boost for Toyota: "The relief must have been palpable" at the automaker's headquarters, says Dale Buss at Brand Channel. The report means that Toyota's claim "that it had [already] gotten to the bottom of the problems" could be trusted. Now, Toyota "can get back to business." The brand has been hurt, but wary customers are starting to come back. And this study's results can only help.

"Toyota ruling gives brand rare sigh of relief"

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The company still has big problems: The results of the investigation "will spare Toyota from additional lawsuits," says Bill Saporito in Time, but the automaker had already resolved the mechanical issues with its cars, so safety isn't its biggest challenge these days. "The bigger issue is that Toyota's cars are boring" and, since the recall, existing customers are "open to buying brands they would not have even considered before." So Toyota must now "rebuild its design cred, not to mention its corporate culture."

"Safety investigators clear Toyota--but safety's no longer the problem"

The real loser is our regulatory system: This is good news for Toyota, but it "doesn't dispel concerns about the weaknesses of the nation’s vehicle safety regulation," say the editors of The New York Times. Our safety system "relies on an under-financed regulator" with little real power. The fines imposed on Toyota were "paltry" for a company that big, and the recall process seemed "chillingly slow." Congress needs to boost funding for the NHTSA and increase the maximum fines it can impose.

"Toyota's acceleration problem"

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