LA Times Reports on 4th Generation ES Transmission Issues, Lexus Responds


Lexus ES 330

This weekend, the LA Times published another chapter in their long-running battle against Toyota & Lexus, this time asserting that the transmission issues experienced by some 2002-2006 Lexus ES owners was indicative of a bigger problem:

The documents show that Toyota repeatedly tried to solve the lurching problem by modifying the car’s computer software. But Toyota told The Times that the Lexus ES issues concerned “drivability” and were not related to the sudden-acceleration problems experienced in other vehicles.

But the automaker decided to fix only a fraction of the vehicles, the documents show.

The repair “should only be utilized for critical customer complaints,” wrote Gary Heine, quality-assurance powertrain manager for Toyota’s U.S. sales division, in an e-mail to customer service managers on Aug. 27, 2002, according to a chronology Toyota lawyers prepared for litigation in late 2005.

Other customers — presumably those who did not complain loudly enough — were not included in the software upgrade until late 2003, when Toyota instructed dealers on how to reprogram the onboard computer and advised more than 100,000 ES owners to bring their cars in for a “product enhancement.”

The article makes for exciting reading, but ignores the standard industry practise to apply technical service bulletins (TSB) only to customers who experience the issue at hand — a fact that Lexus makes clear in their official response to the LA Times:

The Times mischaracterizes a service process that is common throughout the auto industry to address rare performance issues.  Transmission hesitation and momentary surge in the Lexus ES 300/330 was not a safety or unintended acceleration issue but a customer satisfaction and drivability issue about which only a limited number of customers raised concerns.  We did not keep this issue from ES owners but, instead, proactively addressed the needs of those customers who were dissatisfied with the feel and performance of their vehicle’s drivetrain.

Once a TSB was available to address this condition, we proactively reached out to the small segment of Lexus customers who had previously contacted us about this issue to ensure they were aware the TSB was available, that their concerns were properly addressed and that they were satisfied with their vehicle’s performance.  This TSB is still available to all other customers who may experience the same issue. 
 
Transmission shifting is often a matter of customer preference, and the vast majority of owners were either not affected by or did not have a concern about this drivability issue.  More specifically, some like quick, firm shifts, while others prefer slower, gentler shifting.  In addressing drivetrain performance, Lexus strived to satisfy the widest range of customer expectations and preferences.

This continual vilification of Toyota by the LA Times leaves a bad taste in my mouth, but for both sides of the story, I recommend reading the article followed by the Lexus response — which I’ve included after the jump.

Lexus Update: Our Response to the Los Angeles Times on Lexus ES 300/330 Drivetrain Issue

Lexus objects to the Los Angeles Times’ portrayal of how the company responded to customer concerns regarding a drivetrain issue in the 2002-2006 Lexus ES300/330 (“Toyota Kept Lexus Issue from Buyers” May 23, 2010).   
 
The Times mischaracterizes a service process that is common throughout the auto industry to address rare performance issues.  Transmission hesitation and momentary surge in the Lexus ES 300/330 was not a safety or unintended acceleration issue but a customer satisfaction and drivability issue about which only a limited number of customers raised concerns.  We did not keep this issue from ES owners but, instead, proactively addressed the needs of those customers who were dissatisfied with the feel and performance of their vehicle’s drivetrain. 
 
Overall, 98% of all customers were satisfied with their vehicle’s performance, as evidenced by the numerous quality and customer satisfaction awards and recognition the Lexus ES has received, including best-in-class in J.D. Power and Associates’ Initial Quality Study (IQS) in three of the first five years after it was introduced:
 
• May 2003 – Lexus ES 300 is the highest ranked entry luxury car in the 2003 J.D Power and Associates IQS.
• May 2005 – The Lexus ES 330 is the highest ranked mid-luxury car in the J.D. Power and Associates IQS.
• June 2006 – Lexus ES 330 earns J.D. Power and Associates IQS award in the Mid-size Premium Car segment.
• July 2003 – ES 300 ranks first in the entry luxury sedan class in the 2003 J.D. Power and Associates Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS).
• On the manufacturing side, J.D. Power and Associates awarded the ES 300 manufacturing facility, the Tsutsumi Plant in Japan, the Bronze Plant Award. 

What’s more, our own research shows that owner loyalty for the fourth- and fifth-generation ES sedan was at or near the top for the entry-luxury segment.
 
The technical service bulletins (TSB) issued to address this drivetrain issue in the Lexus ES300/330 were efforts to achieve greater customer satisfaction with smoother shifting between gears in the automatic transmission.
 
Once a TSB was available to address this condition, we proactively reached out to the small segment of Lexus customers who had previously contacted us about this issue to ensure they were aware the TSB was available, that their concerns were properly addressed and that they were satisfied with their vehicle’s performance.  This TSB is still available to all other customers who may experience the same issue. 
 
Transmission shifting is often a matter of customer preference, and the vast majority of owners were either not affected by or did not have a concern about this drivability issue.  More specifically, some like quick, firm shifts, while others prefer slower, gentler shifting.  In addressing drivetrain performance, Lexus strived to satisfy the widest range of customer expectations and preferences. 
 
The term “surge” has been used across the industry for many years to describe a condition where there is a very slight slow-down and speed-up perception (typically two miles per hour or less) while holding steady throttle at low to moderate speeds. This issue was in no way related to any kind of sustained acceleration. Drivability concerns related to momentary surges or throttle hesitation are not unique to Lexus or Toyota, and nearly every major auto manufacturer has published technical service bulletins to address this type of issue in their vehicles.
 
In the last ten years, nearly 80 service bulletins related to this issue with corresponding repairs and/or program updates have been released across the industry.  Issuing a TSB is commonplace for addressing issues such as this, and there are numerous similar circumstances where other manufacturers have also done so, versus direct notification to customers. 
 
Toyota and Lexus make all available TSBs accessible to the public through the internet by subscribing to our Technical Information System. Toyota also submits copies of TSBs monthly to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and most are summarized on the NHTSA website for anyone to review.
 
Lexus strives to achieve the highest standards of product quality and customer satisfaction, and we made every effort to make the shifting characteristics of the ES truly best in-class before and after production began. Given the concerns raised by some customers about this drivability issue, we did not meet the very high customer satisfaction standards we set for ourselves. However, we fully stand behind the engineering and production quality of the vehicle, as well as our after-sale customer service and technical support.  

Comments


  • lexusjoe

    I must admit, the transmission in those ES’s were sluggish but that means I fall into the “quick,firm shifting” category. Older people had no problem with the “slower, more gentle” shifting. It IS a matter of preference. It wasn’t a safety issue or a “defective” transmission. Most dealers used to ask the customers about what octane gas they put into it, even though the compression ratio was below 10:1. They also had the rotten eggs-“sulfur” smell problem. I always considered the 02-06 MY ES’s the “Dark Ages” of the ES series LOL…the 07-10 MY is a HUGE improvement on every level.

  • Wunko

    This wasn’t even a safety issue.

    I would think Lexus was popular in a good way in LA, but I guess not. LA Times just wants attention.

  • WorldofLuxury

    sigh… I wonder if this is same article I saw today – large letters on the front page saying that Toyota purposely delayed (or something) Lexus recalls. I really want to know what’s going on.

    Of course the complications are bound to be grand, but I’m rooting for Lexus and hope they take proactive action!

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    @WorldofLuxury: That would be the same article.

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    lexusjoe wrote:I always considered the 02-06 MY ES’s the “Dark Ages” of the ES series LOL…the 07-10 MY is a HUGE improvement on every level.

    Can’t disagree here — that generation of ES might be my least favorite Lexus.

  • Josh

    thats funny. the RX second generation 330 model also suffered a horrible transmission issue. Being an owner, I can attest to the hesitation and “jerk” as it hunts for gears.

  • emptystreets130

    I’m pretty sure that the 3rd gen Avalon and the Camry V6 also suffer the same transmission fate.

  • Mark

    I used to own an ’04 RX330. I did notice a bit of hesitation and jerking. I learned how to alleviate that by avoiding jack rabbits starts on the gas pedals. I was gentle with the gas pedals. Ran smoothly from that point forward.

  • Colin P.

    Hmm, I can’t say I agree the current 5th gen ES is an improvement on EVERY level over the ’02-’06 ES. I say this as an owner of an ’05 ES who actually cross-shopped with an ’07 ES. I seriously looked at both cars before coming to my decision.

    The current ES is more handsome than the older ES, and its design has aged better. It’s also significantly faster and more powerful than the ’02-’06 ES. It also has a much better transmission.

    However, the current ES also does not ride as smoothly as the previous generation. And, most notably, it’s interior is a significant step down versus the older model. The ’02-’06 ES has generous amounts of wood trim, especially along the passenger-side dash. Nearly all surfaces are soft or semi-soft to the touch. The newer ES, in comparison, has lots of hard plastic, and far less wood trim. The only real cheap bits on the previous gen ES are the buttons and vent controls, which feel flimsy and cheap (the newer ES has higher quality vent controls/knobs, although the buttons remain cheap-feeling).

    And while it’s a matter of taste, I think the previous gen ES has a more interesting design to its interior, whereas the newer ES is rather plain.

    Visibility from the rear of the newer ES is also not as good as the previous generation (although this is an increasing problem with all newer cars).

    All in all, I’d say the current ES took one step ahead with its exterior design and handling, then proceeded to take a step back with its interior quality and design. It’s a wash.

    Here’s to hoping the 6th gen ES addresses the interior quality problems of the current generation.

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    Colin P. wrote:All in all, I’d say the current ES took one step ahead with its exterior design and handling, then proceeded to take a step back with its interior quality and design. It’s a wash.

    Here’s to hoping the 6th gen ES addresses the interior quality problems of the current generation.

    That’s the way I’ve understood it — that the current ES is a step down with the interior, but a step up in the looks department. The 2010 interior update (with the increased wood and chrome) made a difference, but it just doesn’t compare to the previous ES.

    (My biggest issue with the 4G ES was how similar it looked to the Camry.)

  • WorldofLuxury

    The ES… always a great looking car (except the first generation) … I agree that there never was the perfect generation, and the imperfections were sometimes too big to ignore.

    Anyways, I’ve just been reviewing pictures and articles on the Bentley Mulsanne and the many Rolls Royce models produced today, and I gotta say… the details… oh I wish Lexus were on board. I wish Toyota would provide a model on par with those vehicles without making a new model for Lexus or a new brand for Toyota and without making it some sort of hybrid. In other words, It would be nice to see an ultra-luxury version of the LS on par with tier-one competitors.

    A nice place to start would be fancy-ing up the remote for the rear entertainment system to be on par with the German’s.

  • WorldofLuxury

    ^oh and maybe taking real pictures for posters – and not one of those that need time to get used to and make the car look like a laughing stalk.

  • James

    @WorldofLuxury: I know what you mean. The ES hasn’t ever really been perfect. When the interior was good, the exterior was terrible. Now that the exterior looks good, the interior doesn’t look good. I do think that this is best ES we’ve seen though.

    I wish Lexus would pay more attention to the little things, like buttons Overall it looks great, but it’s the little things like the remote controls that make it seem cheap at times, which isn’t acceptable for a car that has a six figure price tag.

    Wasn’t Lexus working on a V12 of some sort? I seem to recall Lexus talking about how their research showed that the market is ready for a true ultra-luxury Lexus sedan. I also think they said the car would be a hybrid, possibly a V12 hybrid.

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    James wrote:@WorldofLuxury: I know what you mean. The ES hasn’t ever really been perfect. When the interior was good, the exterior was terrible. Now that the exterior looks good, the interior doesn’t look good. I do think that this is best ES we’ve seen though.

    The 2010 update makes a big difference with the interior — more wood, more chrome, separate buttons on the steering wheel — it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

    James wrote:Wasn’t Lexus working on a V12 of some sort? I seem to recall Lexus talking about how their research showed that the market is ready for a true ultra-luxury Lexus sedan. I also think they said the car would be a hybrid, possibly a V12 hybrid.

    There was an Autospies rumor last year that turned out to be totally off the mark, but I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that Lexus would build something in the ultra-luxury class. Maybe after the LFA production run? 8-)

  • Sun

    I completely agree with LA Times. I still own my 2002 ES and I’ve complained to the dealer on multiple occasions but they’ve never got the transmission fixed right. Now I can’t take it back because the warranty is over. I still feel the jerk during stop and go traffic. They told me that it is the way I drive. I’ve been driving for over 20 years and never had a vehicle transmission react this way. This was my first ‘Luxury’ vehicle I’ve owned and what an experience it was, it left a bad taste. I’ll probably have to live with it and hope that other ‘Luxury’ automotive company isn’t same. I don’t think I’ll buy another Toyota/Lexus vehicle again. Blame their mistake on the customer isn’t a company that I would trust ever again.

  • http://lexusenthusiast.com krew

    @Sun: Did you contact Lexus about having the TSB update done and about your experience? I would recommend it:

    http://www.lexus.com/contact/index.html

    :-)

  • Olugbon2323

    dats my baby…………………….

  • Lloydboy5

     I’m experiencing the same thing with my ES300 (2002.)  These guys ahead of you like “lexusjoe” are a joke to me.  The LA Times did not just “dredge” this thing up out of nowhere.  Such stories are borne out of reality.  This is not about “driveability” or such b.s. terms the auto industry uses such as “preference.”  This is about wholesale deceit, fraud, and a total lack of ethics.  Case in point-I purchased my Lexus used from Crown Lexus in Riverside, CA.  I purchased this 2002 in 2006 with a “Certified Pre-Owned” 100k warranty.  Nevermind that the fake warranty was for 100k miles or 3 years (whichever comes first-what a hollow offer-the 3 years will most certainly come prior to exhausting the 100k miles unless you have the total daily commute from hell and run up untold miles.)  But, class-action lawsuits regarding the transmission AND engine sludge buildup (which totally destroys the entire guts of your car, the power-train) were not only in full-force but, were already settled and approved or nearly approved in 2005 (nearly a full year prior to my purchase) by the courts in which they were filed.  I just now discovered these problems with my “certified pre owned lexus.”  I had no idea at the time I was making my purchase despite my due diligence in the matter because stories were not nearly as widely published as they are now.  Having said that, were the good folks at Lexus and/or Toyota operating with any integrity whatsoever, they knew or should have known these were significant problems with my particular vehicle, and they had a duty to disclose such information to me PRIOR to my purchase or at the time of purchase so I could have included that information in my purchase decision.  They never said a word or even hinted at such problems. This was a page taken right out of the Ford/GM playbook (you remember, the pinto) where they failed to disclose known problems.  So, when I hear people like some in this forum defend the behavior of companies like Toyota/Lexus, completely ignoring their own culpability in the manufacture and design of their own vehicles, i am turned off to anything they have to say.  THESE ARE NOT ISSUES OF DRIVER PREFERENCE.  What driver/car owner in their right mind would prefer to have a vehicle (because of their own lack of exactly what makes a car operate) have its transmission and/or engine very prematurely break apart on them?  No one.  And lets be clear-when the transmission computer fails or the engine builds up sludge, were are not simply talking (realistically) about replacing the computer or cleaning out the sludge-we are much more than likely talking about a total rebuild/replacement of both systems, which will likely cost (unless you have a totally good friend who is the ultimate mechanic) in the neighborhood of 10-12 thousand dollars.  So, when Toyota “graciously decides” to recall approximately 8 different models and halt production of those models, this is not out of their good graces.  NO-it is instead because they got their collective backsides caught in a total deception by watchdog groups, the general public, their own customers, the courts, and the media such that good reason and intelligence forced them to this decision.  This moreover was probably encouraged by their lawyers as the path to the least financial loss.  And, don’t get me wrong-they are in business to make money.  I get it. But, by recalling all those lines of cars, halting production, legally places the public on notice, while making them look “good.”  This actually stops future losses from any of those now who would fail to come forward and seize their rights under the public notice.  The accountants at Toyota/Lexus are very good at what they do-and they deal with dollars and cents not ethics.  It is in Lexus’ best interest to deny all of this stuff because at the end of the day, even if they lose a giant lawsuit, the total costs of the litigation and any losses they will be required to pay will be much smaller than if they did the right thing, recalled and properly repaired these vehicles.  Now-I’m stuck with a car I haven’t even paid off yet while facing ridiculous repair bills, and the war of a lifetime just trying to get Lexus to properly replace or repair with parts and labor this monstrosity of a deception they have perpetrated.  I don’t know if I have the emotional strength to fight this battle but, I need my car. 

  • Tanscotton

    I am going through the same thing with my car. And I have 2005 ES 330 with a 108 miles so what do you recommend that I do. I am stuck with a car that is not paid for.

  • MN0670

    I have a 2006 gs300. my vsc lite came on at 95000. Miles. Took it to the dealer and they r telling me i need a new transmission. of course my warranty has expired. Frm my understanding it has a sealed transmission thats suppose to last the life of the car. So my question is why is it failing? I too am havi g the same issues as the ES. Dealer told me it would cost $5000. for a new transmission. Really?! its only 6yrs old. Very disappointed. After spending $45000. On this car n now for the transmission to b going out does not make me happy.
    contacted lexus customer service and they r telling me tht they might not cover replacing it because i nver had tht last major service done on the car. After all the money I’ve spent on minor service and regular oil changes at the dealer which i knw are over charging me i was still a loyal customer. Don’t think i will invest in lexus for my next car.