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Audi 5000 unintended acceleration

Sales in the United States fell after a series of recalls from 1982 to 1987 of Audi 5000 models associated with reported incidents of sudden unintended acceleration linked to six deaths and 700 accidents. At the time, NHTSA was investigating 50 car models from 20 manufacturers for sudden surges of power.

60 Minutes report aired 23 November 1986, featuring interviews with six people who had sued Audi after reporting unintended acceleration, showing an Audi 5000 ostensibly suffering a problem when the brake pedal was pushed. Subsequent investigation revealed that 60 Minutes had engineered the failure – fitting a canister of compressed air on the passenger-side floor, linked via a hose to a hole drilled into the transmission.

Audi contended, prior to findings by outside investigators, that the problems were caused by driver error, specifically pedal misapplication. Subsequently, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that the majority of unintended acceleration cases, including all the ones that prompted the 60 Minutes report, were caused by driver error such as confusion of pedals. CBS did not acknowledge the test results of involved government agencies, but did acknowledge the similar results of another study.

With the series of recall campaigns, Audi made several modifications; the first adjusted the distance between the brake and accelerator pedal on automatic-transmission models. Later repairs, of 250,000 cars dating back to 1978, added a device requiring the driver to press the brake pedal before shifting out of park. A legacy of the Audi 5000 and other reported cases of sudden unintended acceleration are intricate gear stick patterns and brake interlock mechanisms to prevent inadvertent shifting into forward or reverse.

Audi's U.S. sales, which had reached 74,061 in 1985, dropped to 12,283 in 1991 and remained level for three years. – with resale values falling dramatically. Audi subsequently offered increased warranty protection and renamed the affected models – with the 5000 becoming the 100 and 200 in 1989 – and only reached the same sales levels again by model year 2000.

A 2010 BusinessWeek article – outlining possible parallels between Audi's experience and 2009–2010 Toyota vehicle recalls – noted a class-action lawsuit filed in 1987 by about 7,500 Audi 5000-model owners remains unsettled and is currently being contested in county court in Chicago after appeals at the Illinois state and U.S. federal levels.

2011
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