March 3, 2010
Contact:
Emerson Brown, NPR


   

NPR NEWS INVESTIGATION FINDS UNINTENDED ACCELERATION
WIDESPREAD PROBLEM IN AUTO INDUSTRY

NPR ANALYSIS OF NHTSA DATA REVEALS ACCELERATION ISSUES
NOT LIMITED TO TOYOTA,
OTHER MANUFACTURERS RECEIVE SIMILAR RATES OF COMPLAINTS

March 3, 2010; Washington, D.C. The dangerous problem of cars accelerating without a driver's input has put Toyota in the headlines and brought the carmaker's executives to congressional hearings. But an NPR News Investigation, out today, finds that unintended acceleration is not limited to Toyota. It is actually a problem found throughout the auto industry. The full report is airing today on NPR News' All Things Considered and online with additional reporting at NPR.org. The site also offers an interactive database to locate complaints for brands and model years dating back to 1990.

NPR's Robert Benincasa compared complaints filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in any given year to manufacturers' market share. This analysis which generates rates of complaints rather than raw numbers reveals that companies such as Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo have had high rates of complaints for their cars in certain model years. In some cases, automakers have resolved problems through recalls and updated technology. Benincasa's report is based on a database of 15,000 acceleration problem complaints consumers filed with federal regulators since 2000, and reach back to 1990 car models.

Though experts say a manufacturer's share of complaints and its share the market should be approximately equal, Benincasa consistently identifies years where many brands had complaints that outpaced sales. As an example, Benincasa points to Volkswagen in 2008, when the company had a market share of two percent but its share of complaints was 14.7 percent despite using a system where the brake overrides the accelerator.

Presented with these findings, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the watchdog group Center for Auto Safety, says NHTSA regulators are not doing the kind of analysis that compares various manufacturers' complaint levels to their sales figures.

Ditlow tells NPR: "There's no one doing it as far as I know. This is the first time I've seen an analysis like this in a long time. Not since the 1980s, when sudden acceleration first hit the headlines, did we see a manufacturer-based analysis of complaints. But it's something the government could and should be doing every year."

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The NPR News Investigative Unit crosses all news desks and programs to build upon, and strengthen the commitment to NPR's established investigative work. Earlier this month, an international NPR News Investigation took three correspondents across three continents to compile an in-depth portrait of the life, background and eventual radicalization of Christmas Day bomb suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Other recent investigations included a multipart collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity examining the failure of colleges to protect women from sexual assault and a three-part series produced in partnership with the Center for Investigative Reporting on the U.S. government's use of confidential informants.