As I write this, the bosses of Mitsubishi Motors Philippines have just told a contingent of Filipino journalists on a trip to Japan that a UK-based vehicle testing company has cleared the Montero Sport of any defect that might lead to the so-called “sudden unintended acceleration.”
You will recall that in November last year, the accusation of SUA was revived and leveled once more at the previous-generation Montero Sport—just as the Japanese carmaker was preparing to launch the all-new model. Sudden unintended acceleration—as described by supposed “victims”—is that malfunction that causes a car to launch itself on its own even without human input. The allegation against the old Montero Sport wasn’t new; it had surfaced back in 2011, which had prompted MMPC to bring in Japanese engineers to investigate. Said engineers had found nothing.
And then last year, just before the arrival of the new Montero Sport, the SUA claims came back, and they were more vicious, more malicious and more orchestrated. Almost every day, there appeared an SUA complaint against the Montero Sport on social media, which one TV network was more than happy to pass on to its viewers. Never mind if this TV station wasn’t technically qualified to competently cover the story. In fact, they were so unfit to report the issue that they broadcast a video that was very clearly proof of driver error and not vehicle defect. (The driver claimed the vehicle wouldn’t stop even though he had been “stepping” on the brakes, but then the vehicle’s perfectly working rear brake lights never came on in the footage, indicating that the driver, as a matter of fact, hadn’t had his right foot on the brake pedal.)
More “victims” stepped forward. Things snowballed very quickly. Facebook pages were put up to unite the complainants. Countless posts featured seemingly authentic testimonies from owners of “defective” Montero Sport units. Meanwhile, my former publication (Top Gear Philippines) and I were accused of being paid apologists for Mitsubishi. We were called names for not believing in sudden unintended acceleration. They said we were simply defending an advertiser.
The issue got so big that the Department of Trade and Industry had to step in. On December 2, the agency commenced its investigation of the matter, although I have to point out that said investigation involved mostly interviews of “experts” and cross-examinations of complainants. No conclusive technical tests were conducted—nobody in the Philippines was qualified to do so, DTI admitted.
When the agency released its initial report two weeks later, it recommended that a third-party test be conducted in an electromagnetic compatibility laboratory, which apparently we didn’t have in the Philippines. They proposed searching for one overseas.
Mitsubishi was okay with the idea, even offering to shoulder the expenses for the suggested third-party test. But for one reason or another—the most significant of which was probably the scheduled presidential election in May—the plan got shelved and was all but forgotten.
So Mitsubishi went ahead and looked for a third-party evaluator on its own. DTI was supposed to be part of the process, but perhaps all the political activity in the coming months just forced it to fade away.
In June, Mitsubishi found one, a UK-based company called Horiba Mira. On its website, the firm describes itself as “a global provider of pioneering engineering, research and test services to the automotive, defense, aerospace and rail sectors. We work in close collaboration with vehicle manufacturers and suppliers around the world, providing comprehensive support ranging from individual product tests to turnkey engineering design, development and build programs.”
To cut the story short, Horiba Mira concluded its tests and found nothing wrong with the Montero Sport. I still don’t know the full details of the findings, but I’ve been told they support what I had been saying all along: SUA is a joke, professed by erring drivers who want to escape culpability, and encouraged by individuals (and companies) who have an agenda.
This whole episode was based on one blatant lie after the other, legitimized on the surface by their virality on social media. In a society teeming with gullible people, that’s good enough. And if you think about it, that’s how Donald Trump won the US presidency.
Now consider: How come we’re no longer hearing SUA complaints about the Montero Sport today? There were incidents on an almost daily basis just last year. What happened? All the units suddenly became okay? Or did the orchestrator just abandon the campaign, having already tarnished the Montero Sport’s reputation?
Whatever the reason, the damage has been done. According to my contacts at MMPC, while the new-generation Montero Sport is selling well, the numbers would definitely have been better had the SUA scandal not reared its ugly head. In many people’s minds, the Montero Sport has a history of crashing into walls on its own. And not even the exonerating result of a technical scrutiny will erase that impression. Some folks would rather believe fake news websites these days.