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Re: Unintended acceleration

Here's the article from Brill's Content, posted for your perusal and

>Lurching Into Reverse
>by Greg Farrell
>Audi sales were crushed by a 1986 60 Minutes show that was off track.  A
>decade later,  the car maker is finally recovering, but 60 still won’t admit
>it was wrong. 
>Buried deep in the 60 minutes archives, squirreled away alongside the
>program’s notable triumphs, is an episode the CBS weekly newsmagazine isn’t
>eager for you to see.
>This isn’t some obscure early segment with poor production values that would
>make the venerable show look laughable today. It’s one of 60 Minutes’s
>greatest hits, a piece originally broadcast on November 23, 1986, titled "Out
>of Control." As presented by veteran correspondent Ed Bradley, the 17-minute
>segment showed compelling visual evidence that the Audi 5000, a German luxury
>sedan, had a dangerous propensity to lurch forward on its own, even when the
>driver’s foot was on the brake. This defect, dubbed "sudden acceleration,"
>allegedly responsible for hundreds of accidents. The piece also included
>dramatic interviews with six people who claimed that accidents they suffered
>in their Audis were caused by the car. Two of the wrecks caused fatalities.
>But it turns out that all of the people featured who sued Audi eventually
>their cases. And the woman used in the "teaser" opening—the clips that run
>just before the ticking clock at the start of each 60 Minutes show—was later
>fined for filing a frivolous suit.
>"It’s not because we’re embarrassed by the story," says 60 Minutes spokesman
>Kevin Tedesco, explaining his refusal to provide a tape of the show. "It’s
>lawyers. They don’t want to open up a can of worms."
>The Audi episode was repeated on September 13, 1987. The rebroadcast included
>additional information on the skein of mishaps—1,200 reported accidents,
>including five deaths and 400 injuries—claimed to have been caused by the
>defective Audis. As Bradley stated, "the sheer number of incidents involving
>the Audi 5000 alone would make it the most frequently occurring serious
>in automotive history."
>The show had an enormous impact in the marketplace. Sales of all Audi models
>in the U.S., which had peaked at 74,061 in 1985, plunged sharply after the 60
>Minutes broadcasts (see chart, page 55).  "It was a nightmare for the
>company," says Thomas McDonald, former head of public relations at Audi’s
>parent, Volkswagen of America, Inc. "We lost billions of dollars in sales and
>revenues." Audi’s average annual sales of 14,000 cars from 1991 to 1995 were
>just 19 percent of its pre­60 Minutes peak. 
>But in early 1989, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
>issued the findings of an exhaustive two-year study of sudden
acceleration. It
>concluded there was no mechanical problem that directly caused the
>acceleration of the Audi 5000 or any other cars (including Mercedes-Benz,
>Nissan, and Toyota models) accused by drivers of having minds of their own.
>NHTSA investigators determined that most of the accidents must have been the
>result of driver error—especially a driver mistaking the gas pedal for the
>brake. Government safety agencies in Canada and Japan reached similar
>conclusions in their own studies.
>On March 12, 1989, Bradley presented a short update, reporting on NHTSA’s
>findings. He said the study "supported the position of Audi and the other
>manufacturers," and that investigators "could find no mechanical or
>failures which would cause sudden unintended acceleration." While the study
>concluded drivers were mistakenly hitting the accelerator, Bradley noted that
>it also pointed to possible design problems—"the shape, location, and feel of
>gas and brake pedals"—as a contributing factor.
>"Audi of America," concluded Bradley, "which saw its sales drop by more than
>two-thirds as a result of adverse publicity, said it was delighted with the
>new report, which it said finally vindicates the Audi."
>That was it for the update. What Bradley did not say was that the original 60
>Minutes broadcast might have been erroneous or misleading. He termed the
>findings an "opinion." 60 Minutes’s own role in creating "adverse publicity"
>was left unacknowledged. "They never apologized," says a former Volkswagen
>executive. "They never said, ‘We were wrong.’" (Bradley declined to answer
>questions about his piece.)
>What’s more, Bradley also failed to mention how 60 Minutes had been able to
>offer footage of an Audi 5000 lurching forward from a parked position.
>Rosenbluth, an automotive consultant retained by plaintiffs in a suit against
>Audi, says he drilled a hole in an Audi transmission and piped fluid into it.
>The resulting filmed sequence, in which the accelerator pedal moved down on
>its own, provided 60 Minutes with the damning visual evidence the program
>needed to brand the Audi 5000 a dangerous vehicle.
>Rosenbluth says 60 Minutes asked to shoot one of his Audi tests, and that the
>show knew what he was doing. "My objective was to demonstrate that you could
>get an acceleration," says Rosenbluth. His tinkering got the car to move on
>its own, but the segment never mentioned that the vehicle had been rigged to
>do so. "We were appalled that 60 Minutes put this thing on the air," says
>Pollard, a principal investigator hired by NHTSA for its study. "It was a
>stunt....It does not represent a real-life situation."
>To address real or perceived safety issues, Audi initiated a design change.
>The car maker added a shift lock that prevents a driver from shifting from
>park into gear without having a foot on the brake. The change, Audi
>insisted, was not a reaction to any mechanical flaws; it was simply meant to
>allay consumer worries. After the lock was installed, the number of so-called
>sudden acceleration incidents dwindled. "It was like turning off a faucet,"
>says Robert Cameron, Volkswagen’s manager for product liaison.
>Audi also tried to repair its image after the NHTSA report. On July 18, 1989,
>the company bought full-page ads in The New York Times and other major
>newspapers. The ad copy summarized the NHTSA findings and concluded with
>Audi’s last words on the subject: "Audi has been vindicated. Case closed."
>Yet Audi’s sales slump persisted for years. "We had a choice of suing" 60
>Minutes over the show, recalls Philip Hutchinson, Volkswagen’s vice president
>for government and industry relations at the time of the broadcasts. But the
>car maker did not want to stir up more publicity about the alleged defect.
>we had won, it would have been a Pyrrhic victory," says Hutchinson. "If we
>won, what would Audi sales have been?"
>More than a decade later, with the introduction of its new models lauded in
>the automotive press, Audi is finally mounting a comeback. The car maker’s
>U.S. sales recovered to 34,160 in 1997, and through the first quarter of
>it was 14.6 percent ahead of that pace. Even so, Audi’s full-year sales are
>likely to be only half of their rate before 60 Minutes.
>Douglas Clark, Audi’s U.S. public relations manager, says the car maker is
>interested in having Audi executives discuss the 60 Minutes segment. "This is
>something we like to keep as past history," says Clark. "We’ve been cleared,
>and we like looking forward."
>It’s worth looking back, however, at the way 60 Minutes constructed its
>segment, and at its refusal to acknowledge a key omission, as well as its use
>of the Audi doctored by Rosenbluth.
>The most dramatic Audi "victim" featured on the show was Kristi Bradosky. On
>February 19, 1986, Bradosky’s six-year-old son Joshua had opened the garage
>door at the family’s home near Canton, Ohio, so his mother could park her
>The Audi lurched forward, pushing the boy backwards and fatally crushing him
>against the garage’s back wall.
>60 Minutes contacted the Bradoskys about a month after the accident. By then,
>they had talked to lawyers about filing a suit against Volkswagen of America
>and Audi A.G. "We thought long and hard about speaking to [60 Minutes]," says
>John Bradosky, who now lives with his wife and three children in Huntington
>Beach, California.
>In the police report filed on the accident, the officer on the scene, Steven
>Zerby, wrote that Bradosky’s "foot slipped off the brake pedal onto the gas
>pedal accelerating the auto." Bradosky gave her statement at the hospital
>where her son had been taken; she was understandably hysterical. Zerby
says he
>took down her statement accurately. In the family’s suit against Audi, which
>they lost, Kristi Bradosky admitted during cross-examination that she might
>have told Zerby she had her foot on the accelerator, according to her
>attorney, John Van Abel.
>When 60 Minutes producer Allan Maraynes initially met with the Bradoskys,
>discussed the police report. "We had lots of conversations about state of
>mind, about what [his wife] would have said" to the cop if she wasn’t so
>traumatized, says John Bradosky. Did they tell 60 Minutes the police report
>was wrong? "We didn’t try to convince them of anything," says Bradosky. 
>Nonetheless, the show presented Bradosky as a woman convinced that the car
>caused her son’s death. On camera, Bradley asked her if she was sure the car
>was at fault; she emphatically said her foot was on the brake. No mention was
>made of her statement to the police. Maraynes, now a senior investigative
>producer at Dateline NBC, says the omission of the report was addressed
>60 Minutes before the show was first broadcast.
>"There’s more to that," says Maraynes of the report. Bradosky, he says,
>"claims she never said that" to the police. "We went through that whole thing
>with her....It’s not as blatant as saying we left out a police report. We
>didn’t. It’s not a one-dimensional piece."
>Maraynes maintains there was nothing wrong with the Audi segment. He even
>defends the dramatized footage of the Audi lurching ahead on its own.
>Rosenbluth "artificially rigged the scenario to whatever it was," Maraynes
>says. Nonetheless, Maraynes continues, "I thought it was obvious that the guy
>was conducting a test, because otherwise you don’t just show up and a car
>takes off. It’s arguable whether another line, or a super [title] saying,
>‘This is a test,’ would have helped people....I don’t necessarily think so."
>Maraynes also notes that the sudden acceleration claims got wide play in the
>mainstream press. "Because we have a bigger audience, it made headlines and
>got Audi upset," he says. "Audi complained we had some bogus scientists show
>us what their theory was—which we did—but we didn’t validate it. We didn’t
>say, ‘Therefore this is what’s happening.’ "
>Volkswagen had selected its lobbyist, Phil Hutchinson, to go on camera
with 60
>Minutes, along with fellow executive Robert Cameron. What Hutchinson recalls
>from the hours they spent with the taping crew was the repetitive nature of
>Bradley’s questions. 
>"They wanted Cameron and me to look bad," Hutchinson says. "We found it
>awkward to be asked the same question over and over again, some four or five
>times. It was as though they wanted us to get mad. It was hard to steel
>yourself and give the same answer in the same tone of voice."
>"In the attempt to get a better understanding, you might say, ‘Now let me get
>this straight,’ as a recap effort," says Maraynes. "There’s something wrong
>with re-covering ground? Lawyers do it all the time."
>But Hutchinson says Bradley kept pounding away at their position. In
>particular, the Volkswagen officials were shown reciting the explanation that
>Audi drivers were at fault. At best, this made Audi’s customers seem, from
>company’s perspective, like bad drivers; at worst, liars.
>The audi segment—when a rare copy is secured for viewing—still makes for
>powerful, persuasive television. A hard-hitting piece of work, it includes
>interviews with credible, eloquent accident victims, highlighted by a tearful
>and heartrending Bradosky. The report clearly shows an Audi lurching forward
>on its own. And it stars Ed Bradley at his prosecutorial best in interviews
>with the car executives.
>The main witnesses used in the segment, however, never proved Audi was
>at fault. (Audi did pay car owners for any damage to their cars or other
>property.) The Bradoskys lost their case. Alice Weinstein, a Woodbury, New
>York, woman who unsuccessfully sued Audi and two dealers for $9 million, was
>herself fined $20,000 for filing a frivolous action against the dealers,
>according to Audi officials, a Newsday story, and one of the dealers.
>in Florida, Richard Weinstein, her husband, confirmed the fine but said they
>had a settlement agreement with Audi.)
>"Audi did not lose any unintended acceleration case," says the former
>Volkswagen executive. "Audi lost some normal product liability cases. But
>there were no settlements on sudden acceleration."
>There is another thread to this story. James Hely, a Mountainside, New
>attorney, won $114,000 in damages in 1988 on behalf of a family hit by an
>driver. Hely convinced a jury that the car caused the driver to have an
>accident. His argument succeeded, he says, because he focused on Audi’s
>allegedly poor design of the brake and pedal configuration in the 5000,
not on
>sudden acceleration.
>Asked why 60 Minutes never retracted its story or apologized for it,
>producer Don Hewitt is consistent in his defense. He says that vehicle design
>changes made by Audi indicated the segment was correct (a charge Audi flatly
>denies). But wouldn’t the impact of a 60 Minutes exposé compel a company
to do
>something, even if it were just to make a cosmetic change? "If it was
>cosmetic, they shouldn’t have done it!" says Hewitt.
>Asked if the episode should have included some mention of the police report
>that notes Bradosky’s foot was on the accelerator, Hewitt says, "That’s the
>first I’ve heard of that." (Segment producer Maraynes, of course, knew of the
>And what was the difference between what 60 Minutes did to get the Audi to
>lurch forward and what Dateline NBC did six years later to get the side fuel
>tanks of a General Motors truck to explode, a stunt for which NBC apologized?
>"Who do you work for, Audi?" Hewitt snaps. "We stand by the update to our

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