Disturbing parallels between the Toyota hysteria and the Audi 5000 debacle

Toyota stands accused of 34 sudden acceleration incidents over the last 10 years that are “linked to” or “associated” with fatalities, a figure that in just the last few weeks has jumped from 19. About 2,000 Toyota owners in that decade filed complaints with the National Highway and Safety Administration (NHTSA) that their vehicles suddenly accelerated. But the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is holding hearing on the Toyota issue, has tacked on an additional 600 to that, for 2,600.

Back in the mid-1980s Audi was also deluged with sudden acceleration complaints, many in the wake of a spectacular “60 Minutes” segment. It received 2,500 in 1987 alone – the same as the total number of accusations against Toyota. “Sophisticated electronic controls are now believed to play a role in the problem,” reported the New York Times. Class actions suits were filed from here to eternity and one continues to this day.

Yet Audi 5000 sales peaked at 74,000 while during the last decade Toyota has sold 20 million cars here. So Audi per vehicle had about 27 times more complaints than Toyota. But it gets a lot worse for Audi. In 1987 Audi’s parent company Volkswagen of America gave NHTSA all the acceleration complaints it had received on the Audi 5000, sending the accident toll past 1600, including 400 injuries.

Audi recalled the vehicles and tried desperately to fix the problem, but no no avail. Complaints poured in on those vehicles, too.

If Toyota is “bad,” Volkswagen was absolutely monstrous – which is exactly how Congress and the media presented it.

But here’s the kicker: When NHTSA issued its comprehensive report on the Audi, which it had verified by a second panel, it found the entire problem came down to “pedal misapplication.” It avoided the term “driver error,” but said the problem was drivers who thought they were hitting the brakes but were slamming the gas pedal.

Is this proof that allthe Toyota sudden acceleration complaints are actually driver error? Of course not. When I wrote about the heterosexual AIDS hysteria, I was constantly accused of saying “heterosexuals don’t get AIDS,” despite my repeatedly stating that obviously they did. My point was that the numbers and the overall threat were grotesquely exaggerated and this caused great harm in many ways, in addition to needlessly scaring the poop out of people.

History never really changes; just the details.