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RE: Unintended acceleration
Here is the text from that article on AOL:
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," was
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 lost
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 the
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 defect
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 pre–60 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 electrical
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 NHTSA
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. William
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.