ERJ staff report (AN)
Washington -- The US Department of Transportation (DOT) is looking into whether Toyota Motor Corp.'s problems with unintended acceleration can be traced to defects in the electronic controls rather than just the mechanical problems cited by the auto maker, a DOT official said yesterday.
â€œWe're not finished with Toyota and are continuing to review possible defects and monitor the implementation of the recalls,â€ transportation secretary Ray LaHood said 2 Feb in a statement.
When asked whether the federal review includes possible electronic problems with Toyota vehicles, a DOT official who asked not to be identified responded in an e-mail, â€œYes.â€
Toyota spokesman John Hanson said he knows little about the expanded federal investigation.
â€œAfter many years of extensive testing, we've found no evidence of an electronic problem that could have contributed to unwanted acceleration,â€ Mr. Hanson said in an interview. â€œWe've investigated many times and found no evidence to point to.â€
Since announcing its recalls and a production halt last week, Toyota has maintained that problems with unintended acceleration were limited to floor mat interference and sticky accelerator pedals.
On 2 Feb, Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota's vice president in charge of quality, denied accusations that electronic malfunctions were contributing to the reports of unintended acceleration.
â€œWe have not come across any case in which we have found a malfunction,â€ Mr. Sasaki said in an interview in Japan. â€œBut if any additional reports arise, we will conduct testing using all technology at our disposal.â€
Also, in a full-page advertisement that ran in many US newspapers yesterday, Toyota Motor Sales USA president Jim Lentz said: â€œWe have launched a comprehensive plan to permanently fix the vehicles we've recalled because in rare instances, accelerator pedals can, over time, become slow to release or get stuck. We know what's causing this and what we have to do to fix it.â€
But Rehoboth, Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies (SRS), a consumer advocacy and auto safety consulting firm, said in a posting on its Web site: â€œNeither floor mats nor sticking accelerator pedals explain many, many incidentsâ€ of unintended acceleration.
Electronics have 'significant role'
â€œBy all appearances, electronics are playing a significant role in the problems,â€ SRS president Sean Kane said in an interview. The DOT investigation â€œhas needed to happen for some time,'' he added.
The investigation should cover 2002-06 Camry cars and 2005-07 Tacoma pickups, both of which have been the subject of numerous consumer complaints suggesting possible electronic defects, Mr. Kane said.
In one case that has raised questions about electronic flaws, Bulent Ezal's 2005 Camry surged over the curb of a restaurant parking lot, lurched 23 feet and careened 70 feet down a cliff into the surf of the Pacific Ocean, killing Mr. Ezal's wife, according to his attorney, Donald Slavik of Milwaukee.
â€œHis foot was on the brake, floor mats were in position and hooked on, and he was about to shift into park,'' Mr. Slavik said. â€œI'm highly confident it was electronic in nature.â€
This report appeared in Automotive News and Tire Business, US-based sister publications of European Rubber Journal.
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Feds look at Toyota electronics as source of acceleration defects from Tire Business (a Crain publication)