Is Toyota Being Used As a Scapegoat?

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When it comes to public opinion in America, Toyota has probably experienced an even faster decline than Tiger Woods or John Edwards. The car company has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide (so far) over acceleration issues and every day seems to bring another Toyota-related disaster. But is and of the damage to Toyota’s reputation undeserved?

Last week, James Sikes from San Diego made news when it was reported that he was trapped behind the wheel of a runaway Toyota Prius. For about 30 minutes, Sikes, 61, said he struggled to stop the car, which reached a top speed of 94 miles per hour. With the help of a 911 dispatcher on the phone, he eventually succeeded by pressing down on both the brake and the emergency brake.

At the time, this incident epitomized the fears and safety issues surrounding Toyota, but there’s one problem. Sikes seems to have made the whole thing up. According to memo obtained by ABC News, federal investigators and Toyota technicians tried and failed to recreate the problem Sikes had with his Prius. "The investigators placed the floor mat back into the car and tried to make the gas pedal stick to the floor board, manipulating the floor mat to see if it was possible for the gas pedal to stick. Both Toyota and NHSTA were unsuccessful," ABC reports.

With that revelation have come others. Fox News reports that Sikes has some serious money problems. He filed for bankruptcy back in 2008, citing more than $700,000 in debt. Sikes may also be a bit of fame-ball, making an appearance on a TV show called the Big Spin. If it’s true that he lied about the runaway Prius, one wonders what he hoped to gain from it. Money? Some fame? Both? (We might want to check his back yard for giant shiny balloons, and little boys pretending to climb into them.)

(Check out our recent post on Crazy Publicity Stunts.)

The question now is whether others will try to use Toyota as a scapegoat for their own personal gain. Last month, another man in Minnesota tried to blame his driving mistake on Toyota.  Koua Fong Lee was thrown in jail in 2007 after he killed three people by smashing into an Oldsmobile with his 1996 Toyota Camry. Lee is now arguing that the problem was not him, but the brakes on his Toyota. “I know 100 percent in my heart that I took my foot off the gas and that I was stepping on the brakes as hard as possible," he said in an interview with the Associated Press.

Whether or not Lee’s story pans out, others will no doubt try to pin the blame on their cars rather than their driving. The next thing you know, 90-year-old drivers in South Florida will argue it’s the Toyota, not their poor vision and reflexes, that has caused their accidents, even if it turns out they were really behind the wheel of a Lincoln Continental.

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