Runaway Toyota mystery explained
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A U.S. government probe has cleared Toyota's electronics of causing unintended acceleration, a big victory for the world's biggest carmaker as it seeks to recover from the hit it took over runaway vehicle accidents.
The findings vindicated Toyota's position that it had identified and fixed the only known safety problems with popular vehicles like the Camry by focusing on mechanical issues with accelerator pedals and the risk that floormats could trap the pedal in the open position.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said: “There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas.”
The probe by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA engineers followed questions by some safety advocates and lawmakers about whether software-driven throttles and flaws with electronic control systems had also played a role in unintended acceleration complaints.
Investigators concluded that most reports of runaway acceleration could be explained by driver error.
NHTSA’s deputy administrator Ronald Medfort explained: “What mostly likely happened was pedal misapplication. The driver stepped on the gas instead of the brake, or in addition to the brake.”
Steve St. Angelo, a Toyota executive tasked with shoring up quality after last year's recalls, said the carmaker hoped the study would “put to rest unsupported speculation” about the safety of Toyota's electronics.
“We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America's foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles,” he said in a statement.
LaHood, who had touched off a panic a year ago by urging Toyota owners with concerns to stop driving them, offered a blanket endorsement on Tuesday.
“We feel Toyota vehicles are safe to drive,” LaHood said, adding that he recommended to his daughter that she buy a Sienna minivan after she sought his opinion.
Although Toyota has cleared a major hurdle in its ongoing safety saga, analysts cautioned that it would still struggle to win back American consumers who have defected from the brand and its luxury counterpart Lexus.
Toyota lost ground in the U.S. market in 2010, its market share fell from 17 percent at the end of 2009 to just over 15 percent in December.
Toyota has recalled nearly 16 million vehicles globally since September 2009 when it took the first in a series of measures to fix problems with sticky accelerator pedals and potentially dangerous floormats.
The company has also paid nearly R360-million in penalties to the United States over the timeliness of its recalls, including the floor mat and “sticky pedal” cases.
What’s more, U.S. safety regulators said they would consider imposing requirements for all vehicles to have brake override systems that automatically counteract any instances of unintended acceleration. Toyota has said it would install the brake override feature on new vehicles. -Reuters