Skip to content
Ralph Nader > Special Features > Nader Questions Toyota Safety Investment

November 23, 2010

James E. Lentz, President and CEO Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. 19001 South Western Ave. Torrance, CA 90501

Dear Mr. Lentz:

I was disappointed with the unresponsiveness to my October 15, 2010 letter from your public relations Vice President, Mr. Michels. This is not a PR matter. That is what my letter complains about: Too much P.R. and too little substance. With Toyota’s reputation tarnished by years of failure to recall deadly runaway vehicles and other safety defects, PR alone won’t accomplish your goal. Recovery of your reputation requires sincere actions to enhance safety.

The $8 plus billion that Toyota ads characterize as research and development spending undoubtedly include a substantial amount of product design, testing, and other expenditures that are generally not considered research and development. Mr. Michels failed to address my specific request for a breakdown of this number, by explaining how much is spent for basic research, prototype models, testing, crashworthiness, other safety systems and the like. As a telling example, I understand that Toyota includes the cost of its racing program as part of its “R&D.” Although small advancements in automotive technology may come from racing programs, their primary purpose is to sell cars, or advertising and promotion, not R&D or safety.

Your ads imply that the bulk of the $8 billion is directed toward making Toyotas safer. Can you cite the specific amount that is spent by Toyota on vehicle safety research and development, not including the application of existing safety technology to new vehicles or testing?

I would appreciate a specific answer to my question given that you have spent many millions publicizing the $8 billion plus expenditure.

Also, what genuine and unique advancements has Toyota made from this expenditure, and what such advancements have actually been incorporated into Toyota’s products and which ones? In the automotive industry many innovations come from automotive suppliers, not the auto makers themselves. I am interested in knowing what innovations you have incorporated into your vehicles in the past 5 years that have come from these huge expenditures you boast about and which came from suppliers.

One would think that an expenditure of billions of dollars per year would result in a dramatic reduction in crashes and crash injuries in your vehicles, and an elimination of the type of defects that continue to plague your company and your industry. Unfortunately, that has not occurred. While casualties from motor vehicle crashes have gone down over the last several years, mostly because of the economic downturn, safety defect recalls remain as a continuing problem for the industry in general and Toyota in particular. Toyota in the last decade has experienced a number of high profile safety defect problems involving millions of vehicles which it denied or ignored rather than correcting in a timely fashion. These facts contradict the message you are broadcasting to the American public about your technology and safety investments.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s motor vehicle safety budget amounts to less than a week of Toyota’s claimed R&D expenditures. The agency’s vehicle crash investigation program has been starved of funding so that motorists are driving without knowing the nature of crash injuries in the U.S. The fact that the agency had to rely on Toyota for instruments to read out the Event Data Recorders or Black Boxes in runaway Toyotas shows how dependent the agency has become on the very industry it is supposed to regulate. Another example of dependency is NHTSA’s renting a research facility from Honda.

If Toyota is serious about motor vehicle safety, why hasn’t it used its substantial lobbying power to advocate a funding increase in the Federal government’s motor vehicle safety program as proposed in the Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 2010 and to support this legislation now pending in the Congress? If Toyota really wants to improve its image as a company concerned about safety, it would embrace this important legislation rather than joining with the auto trade associations in trying to gut it and prevent its passage.

Despite your advertising blitz, you have not made the case that Toyota has a serious commitment to eliminating the unacceptable number of serious to fatal vehicle crash injuries. Again, I and my colleagues would appreciate a more specific and detailed elaboration of your programs and expenditures that support your mass advertising messages.

Sincerely, Ralph Nader

PO Box 19312 Washington, D.C. 20036

———————————————————————————— October 15, 2010 Letter to Mr. Lentz

James E. Lentz Oct. 15, 2010 President and CEO Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. 19001 South Western Ave. Torrance, CA 90501

Your frequently printed advertisement these days states that “We’re investing a million dollars an hour to enhance our technology and your safety— That’s why we’re spending a million dollars an hour on research and development.” (emphasis added)

“Research and Development” has a specific meaning and does not include production engineering expenditures. At one million dollars an hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the total comes to 8,760,000,000 dollars! That is an astonishing amount, compared to your industry peers, to be spent on safety R&D.

Can you breakdown that sum into its constituent categories so that the motoring public and other interested parties can understand where these sums are being applied—such as basic research, prototype models, crashworthiness spending and the like?

Thank you for your responsiveness regarding the above.

Sincerely yours, Ralph Nader

PO Box 19312 Washington, D.C. 20036