Updated 15:50 PM PHT Thu, January 21, 2016
Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – At least 25 complainants of alleged faulty Montero Sport vehicles urged Mitsubishi Motors Philippines to stop selling the unit on Wednesday (December 2).
They claimed to have experienced sudden unintended acceleration while on their Montero Sport. They said they would jerk forward and the the brakes would fail, making them lose control.
Sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) is defined by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as the “unintended, unexpected, high-power accelerations from a stationary position or a very low initial speed accompanied by an apparent loss of braking effectiveness.”
The NHTSA is the federal agency tasked with investigating sudden acceleration complaints, among other things. Its online database reveals almost every top car manufacturer has received numerous complaints.
In the Philippines, this is the first time the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) created an investigating panel to probe into SUA incidents. The NHTSA however had taken on the task almost three decades ago.
Here are two of the biggest SUA “scandals” that were investigated and resolved in US history.
Sudden acceleration became a household name in the 1980s, when US TV news magazine “60 Minutes” aired a segment exposing the alleged SUA problem of the Audi 5000.
It showed people being mown down or driven into garage doors by uncontrollable Audis, and emotional interviews with victims, including a mother whose 6 year-old boy was killed in the incident. It caused public fear and hysteria.
The company’s sales plunged sharply following the report, amid a broad slump in the US economy.
Later, it was found out that the broadcast was fabricated. A consultant for the complainants revealed he had altered the car’s transmission for the shots.
A 1989 study by the NHTSA blamed SUA incidents to drivers’ errors. The investigation examined 10 cars with the highest number of SUA complaints during that time, including the Audi 5000.
“The trouble, unbelievable as it may seem, is that sudden acceleration is very often caused by drivers who press the gas pedal when they intend to press the brake,” said Richard Schmidt in a New York Times op-ed article. Schmidt helped investigate 150 cases of SUA in the past, including the Audi 5000 case.
In 2009, the Los Angeles Times reported over 1,000 Toyota and Lexus owners have complained that their vehicles suddenly accelerated on their own.
A review of federal records since 2001 showed these cases resulted to cars slamming into trees, parked cars, and brick walls, causing at least 19 deaths and numerous injuries.
To probe the barrage of complaints and alarming incidents, the NHTSA launched a 10-month study in 2010, in which engineers and experts from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) evaluated the electronic circuitry of Toyota vehicles.
After analyzing more than 280,000 lines of software codes, testing mechanical components, and experimenting whether electromagnetic radiation could cause malfunctions, they concluded that there was no electronic-based cause for the SUA.
"NASA found no evidence that a malfunction in electronics caused large unintended accelerations," said Michael Kirsch, principal engineer at the NASA Engineering and Safety Center (NESC).
Instead, the verified cause for the unsafe SUA incidents was the “sticky” accelerator pedals which have the potential of being trapped by floor mats.
For this defect, Toyota recalled over eight million vehicles.
In 2014, Toyota paid a $1.2 billion settlement for concealing this safety problem in its vehicles. This is the largest penalty ever charged on an auto company in US history.
‘Dependent on driver’
A video of a Montero Sport vehicle allegedly exhibiting SUA made rounds on social media amid complaints filed against Mitsubishi Motors Philippines.
The viral video showed a white Montero Sport hitting three motorcycles and two other cars while struggling to park near a Quezon City police station. It raised questions on whether the reported incidents were caused by faulty vehicles or driver’s error.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED
Here is the complete sequence of events in that Mitsubishi Montero Sport incident. See for yourself. Two things immediately jump out:1. They were having serious difficulty parking the vehicle into the slot they were targeting, so much so that it necessitated a change of drivers; and2. The brake lights were PERFECTLY FINE. How come they stopped functioning all of a sudden when the second driver took the wheel?Another question: How come ABS-CBN didn't show the early part of the video? Just asking.Posted by TOP GEAR PHILIPPINES on Thursday, November 26, 2015
For its part, Mitsubishi Philippines denied in a statement that their Montero Sport vehicles are defective or unsafe.
They said they “extensively” investigated the complaints and tested the units with the help of experts from Mitsubishi Motors Corp. of Japan (MMC).
“In all these tests, MMC found no defect or malfunction that would result in the alleged sudden unintended acceleration,” Mitsubishi Philippines said. They added that the behaviour of the Montero Sport is completely dependent on the driver’s action and reaction.