EDITOR'S NOTE

The (Fictional) Ghosts In The Machine

The (Fictional) Ghosts In The Machine image

Text: Vince Pornelos / Photos: Vince Pornelos | posted December 03, 2015 12:48

A look at the alleged SUA by the Mitsubishi Montero Sport

Some have come to question why we do not write about the allegations of certain examples of the Mitsubishi Montero Sport suddenly and unintentionally accelerating and why it doesn't seem like we did not question Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation directly.

First off, we at AutoIndustriya.com would like to state that our position on the matter is simple: we have not experienced any supposed sudden untintended acceleration that was caused by the vehicle itself in our numerous test drives of the Mitsubishi Montero Sport since 2008. Neither have we experienced any event that we can consider as SUA with the Mitsubishi Strada during our many drives of it since 2006. Both the Montero Sport and Strada share the same engines, electronics and gearboxes.

Our General Manager personally owns a 2010 Montero Sport, a car that I have personally driven on several occassions. There were no moments where it accelerated suddenly, it didn't feel “possessed” and neither was there any incident that would lead a rational person to think that there was a ghost in the machine.

We do not infer anything about alleged incidents that we didn't experience for ourselves, but we will say this: being that automobiles are complex mechanical devices, the processes and rules of the scientific method must be applied. My high school science is a little rusty, but it goes like this: (Step 1) gather observations of phenomena, (Step 2) formulate hypotheses and test methods, (Step 3) test the hypotheses, and (Step 4) note your conclusions. If the tests (Step 3) fail, modify the hypotheses and methods to exhaust other possibilities and test again. No drama involved or invoked; just observe, hypothesize, test, conclude, repeat.

The customer claims and CCTV footage (when available) were taken as the observed phenomena of SUA, and from that Mitsubishi hypothesized four different potential causes that must be tested: (1) something failed with the car [mechanical failure], (2) the driver stepped on the wrong pedal [driver error], (3) the pedal got stuck on the mat or mats, and (4) the pedal got stuck by itself [drive-by-wire or electronic throttle control failure].

These get tested individually or together under different conditions, sometimes under extreme weather, in a laboratory and on the road. But the simple fact is that if the observed phenomena cannot be replicated based on their testimony then — hard as it may be to accept for either the manufacturer or the customer — that cause must be ruled out.

We did question Mitsubishi about these cases and they provided us with their results. Mr. Arlan Reyes, Marketing Services Manager for Mitsubishi Motors Philippines Corporation, relayed to AutoIndustriya the specific steps that MMPC takes when there is a customer complaint with anything regarding their cars. The frontline is at the dealer level, and their service departments have been fully trained to test the cars for failure using their typically long checklists. Each complaint is taken seriously by Mitsubishi as no company with long-term business prospects in any country will want to sell a defective product. On numerous occassions, MMPC and MMC (the parent Japanese company) have flown in their most experienced engineers to perform the tests themselves and, in one occasion, even shipped the car from the Philippines to Japan just to check if cell phone signals played a role in the supposed SUA.

More importantly, major carmakers (not just Mitsubishi) have R&D departments that vigorously test their own cars before and after they go on sale. Some of them (Mitsubishi included) even have something we call a Red Team; an independent group that is specifically tasked to challenge the company and find faults in their products, much like an engineering and quality control audit group. Red Teams are usually the headaches of any R&D department as they always find problems because they approach a product with the presumption that there is something wrong with it.

But there was no problem found that was mechanical or electrical in nature.

Of the supposed 97 cases of the Montero Sport SUA, 3 were found to be caused by the pedal getting caught on the floormats. Vehicle mechanical or electrical failure: none. The rest: driver error.

And it's not like MMPC will hide it based on their record. In 2013 MMPC, along with the DTI, conducted a proactive recall to inspect some welds on the Montero Sport's suspension. Why would they hide an SUA-related defect when they've already shown that they will recall a model if they find anything wrong with it?

MMPC's Arlan Reyes also volunteered some information to us that there were five (5) customer complaints alleging SUA with regards to their Mitsubishi Strada pick up (the mechanical brother of the Montero Sport). All five were found to have been caused by driver error as well.

Contrary to what is being thrown out there by media and social media, crashes claimed to be related sudden unintended acceleration do not always mean the vehicles are at fault. Just because acceleration is sudden and unintended doesn't mean the driver didn't step on the throttle, mistaking it for the brake.

In the last decade, the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration's (NHTSA) National Accident Sampling System's (NASS) conducted the National Motor Vehicle Crash Causation Study (NMVCCS). Once you get beyond the alphabet soup, the numbers clearly support the conclusion that the leading cause of crashes is driver error. Overwhelmingly.

Of the 2.189 million automobile crashes in the United States, 94% are caused by driver error, 2% are caused by the environment (i.e. ice, fog, snow, etc.), 2% are inclonclusive, while 2% are vehicle-failure related. As the data states, 2.046 million out of the 2.189 million crashes in the U.S. are attributed driver error and were further subclassified as 41% recognition (lack of attention, distracted driving, etc.), 33% decision (overspeeding, illegal maneuvers, etc.), 11% performance error (poor directional control, etc.), 7% non-performance error (falling asleep, etc.), and 8% other causes.

Many may find Mitsubishi's conclusions difficult to accept, and that's a given; it's the automotive equivalent of asking a parent what they think is wrong with their child. People will always suspect the findings by any manufacturer, unless it's an admission of guilt, and that's precisely the reason why there must be a fully competent and credible independent body of engineers that cannot be influenced by any other entity, media included. Granted that's going to be difficult to establish given the funding required for testing equipment, facilities, so on and so forth, but it's doable in the future, not in the knee-jerking present with fear-mongering media and viral social media.

And just to get it out of the way, unless you're hosing down every single electrical terminal, fuse, or computer box of your Montero Sport, getting your car washed frequently is perfectly safe.

You don't need to be a licensed engineer or so-called expert at a Department of Trade and Industry hearing to know that.