Auto Recalls and the Revenge of Efficiency

More

Toyota Prius - Justin Sullivan.jpg

Toyota's safety woes appear to be contagious; not only are the brakes of some of Toyota's flagship Prius models occasionally leaving drivers in the lurch, there's now a recall of European cars that use the same accelerator pedal system as the suspect Toyotas.

The controversy appears as a morality tale on the perils of overexpansion. Planned government investigations and legislative hearings may or may not confirm allegations that Toyota became complacent. But other factors are at work in the global automotive industry:

1) Money-saving standardization of components across models, and even across companies.

2) Global distribution of virtually the same models, used in many climates and road conditions.

3) Innovative, software-intensive, energy-saving systems, like the Prius's regenerative brakes.

In other words, all the progressive changes that business and automotive journalists have been so excited about for years. Toyota's problems may come in part from simply implementing them more successfully than others, not necessarily from relaxing quality control. Honda, another global leader, also recently issued a massive recall.

Steve Wozniak, a Prius owner, is convinced the car has a software problem. Whatever Toyota's real problems turn out to be, a life-threatening software bug may be even more disturbing than a mechanical failure because of the difficulty of proving under all circumstances that the fix hasn't added some new glitch.

Photo credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images


Jump to comments
Presented by

Edward Tenner is a historian of technology and culture, and an affiliate of the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School. He was a founding advisor of Smithsonian's Lemelson Center.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

From This Author

Just In