For us old war dogs of the car safety wars, there were few surprises in the opening round of Congressional hearings today about alleged Toyota safety problems.
Certainly, the predictable appearance of a “surprise” adversarial witness, Professor David W. Gilbert of Southern Illinois University, should have come as no political game upset, especially since it was telegraphed the night before by his appearance on ratings-driven ABC Television.
Gilbert, who is listed on the SIU website as an associate professor in the Department of Automotive Technology, College of Applied Science and Arts of the Carbondale campus, excoriated Toyota’s design of its electronic throttle mechanism. He claimed to have tricked the system into demonstrating the possibility of runaway acceleration from a simple short circuit.
Toyota denied his claim. No surprise in the denial—what other response could they make?
I think Gilbert is taking on a big load, challenging the expertise of veteran Toyota engineers – and perhaps that of suppliers as well.
He may be right – but if he is wrong – it could be a maliciously staged bit of mischief by ABC-TV or – who knows what?
It would not be the first time that a network TV news department has participated in tests or interviews intended to embarrass and otherwise harm an auto company. Anybody remember the rigged fuel tank fire in a GM pickup truck a few years ago that cost the head of NBC news his job? (more…)