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Study Points Finger at Driver Error for Toyota’s Unintended Acceleration Problems

But 2-year review also suggests electronic issues may have played role.

by on Jan.18, 2012

Toyota's unintended acceleration problems likely weren't the result of electronic gremlins, says a new study.

A two-year study looking for possible causes behind Toyota’s rash of unintended acceleration issues has put primary blame on driver error – but the review by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) also cautioned that some problems may have been caused by inadvertent interactions involving vehicle electronics – an issue frequently cited by the automaker’s critics.

Though there was no hard evidence of specific electronic defects, the 139-page report cautioned that “the absence of evidence is not the evidence of absence.”  Warning electronic faults may be “untraceable,” it calls for stricter government involvement in setting standards for the use of electronic control vehicle systems.

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The new report completes a series of studies set in motion by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration which, in March 2010, asked both the NAS’s National Research Council, as well as NASA, to see why there were so many complaints about what the media was referring to as “runaway Toyotas.”


Toyota Recalling 2.2 mil More Vehicles Due to Gas Pedal Jamming

News comes after maker seemingly cleared in federal unintended acceleration investigation.

by on Feb.24, 2011

Added to Toyota's long recall list.

Toyota will recall another 2.2 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix a problem that could lead those products to suddenly surge out of control, it announced today.

The move was an unexpected and seemingly self-inflicted setback for a company that seemed poised to put the ongoing issue of so-called “unintended acceleration” behind it.  The announcement comes a year and a day after Toyota’s top U.S. executive, Jim Lentz, apologized to Congress for delaying action on the runaway car problem.  But it also follows by less than two weeks news that a federal investigation had ruled out mysterious electronic gremlins that might cause Toyota products to surge out of control.

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This is the third major recall by the Japanese maker to deal with unintended acceleration since October 2009 – and could raise questions about why it has taken Toyota so long to act.  Last year, the maker paid a record total of $48.8 million in federal fines for failing to act promptly on safety issues, including problems with sticky accelerator pedals.


NHTSA Finds No Electronic Defects With Toyota

But findings don’t completely clear troubled Japanese maker.

by on Aug.11, 2010

NHTSA cannot find electronic gremlins in Toyota vehicles, and says many unintended acceleration incidents resulted from driver error.

Federal safety regulators are giving Toyota some much-needed good news, though they aren’t completely absolving the troubled Japanese maker in an ongoing safety scandal.

With Toyota facing a rash of lawsuits for its various safety problems – legal problems some analysts estimate could cost the maker more than $2 billion to resolve – there’s significant good news for the  Japanese company in the finding by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it could not find any sign of electronic glitches that might cause Toyota vehicles to unexpectedly race out of control.

In fact, after reviewing the vehicle data recorders taken from scores of Toyota products involved in unintended acceleration incidents, NHTSA found that the brakes were not applied in 35 of 58 cases.  That finding, supported by black box data, suggests that driver error, rather than mechanical problems, were responsible. This should not be surprising to anyone who has followed the history of such charges.

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The additional incidents, however, appear to be the result of mechanical – but not electronic defects.  Toyota has so far recalled more than 8 million cars, trucks and crossovers to resolve problems that could cause a vehicle’s accelerator to stick, including faulty accelerators and loose carpets that could jam under the accelerator pedal.


Toyota to Testify: No Problems With Electronics

Maker to tell Congress it is “confident” about current fixes.

by on May.20, 2010

Toyota's top American executive, Jim Lentz, hopes to convince Congress that there are no electronic glitches on Toyota vehicles.

Toyota’s top American executive, Jim Lentz, will be heading back up to Capitol Hill, today, this time to tell lawmakers the embattled automaker “remains confident” it has isolated and addressed the problems behind its sudden acceleration problems – and ruled out the possibility of unexplained electronic gremlins.

Since last October, Toyota has recalled millions of cars, trucks and crossovers, the vast majority due to the possibility the vehicles could race out of control unexpectedly.  So far, the maker has targeted problems like loose carpets and sticky accelerators.  But critics – some of whom plan to take their case to court – insist Toyota vehicles may also have problems with electronic engine control systems.

But Lentz and other Toyota officials will tell the House Energy and Commerce Committee that all evidence indicates there are no such gremlins.  The maker plans to report on more than 600 inspections it has directly made of vehicles alleged to have experienced sudden acceleration.  Toyota dealers have conducted 1,400 more inspections.

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Meanwhile, the consulting firm Exponent, Inc. has completed 11,000 hours of its own testing for Toyota and its conclusions are expected to support the maker’s claims – and contradict testimony delivered to Congress, in February, by a professor at an Illinois university who claimed he could simulate problems with Toyota electronic controllers.

“Significantly, none of these investigations have found that our Electronic Throttle Control System with intelligence, or ETCS-i, was the cause,” notes prepared remarks Lentz is expected to deliver to the House committee.


Congressman Question Whether Toyota Really Tested For Electronic Control Problems

Reps. Waxman and Stupak cite “absence of documents.”

by on Mar.05, 2010

Toyota officials claimed their test ruled out electronics problems, but two senior lawmakers say they've seen no documents supporting such claims.

Has Toyota withheld critical documents from federal investigators looking into the recall of more than 8 million cars, trucks and crossovers?

That’s a question several senior lawmakers – running for reelection – are hoping to have answered.

Even before Toyota launched the first of a pair of recalls, last October, designed to deal with the “unintended acceleration” of its products, the automaker insisted that “extensive” tests had ruled out problems with the electronic control systems used on its vehicles.

But U.S. Reps. Bart Stupak and Henry Waxman contend that the embattled automaker has so far failed to provide documents supporting that claim, as they outlined in a letter sent to senior Toyota officials.

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During two days of hearings, late last month, the subject of electronic control problems came up repeatedly, though Toyota representatives, including Jim Lentz, the maker’s top U.S. executive, repeatedly expressed their confidence that digital systems were not at fault, based on what they described as “extensive” testing by both Toyota and an outside consultancy.

“If so,” says the letter sent by Reps. Stupak and Waxman, “the results of this testing should have been provided to the committee. Despite our repeated requests, the record before the committee is most notable for what is missing: the absence of documents showing that Toyota has systematically investigated the possibility of electronic defects that could cause sudden unintended acceleration.”


Electronics Meltdown?

Toyota hearing raise new question about in-car electronics.

by on Feb.23, 2010

It may look like a simple mechanical device but behind this pedal, Toyota (like other automakers) has wired up a spider's web of electronic controls.

The ongoing Toyota safety crisis is putting the spotlight on the use of electronic controls for critical vehicle systems such as brakes and throttle.  During today’s hearings, on Capitol Hill, testimony raised serious questions about Toyota’s claims that it had developed a safe and reliable engine controller that could and would not cause vehicles to unexpectedly surge out of control.

Whether or not the automaker is ultimately cleared, with more electronic content in cars today, especially as electronic systems replace mechanical functions, a fundamental question has arisen: Are automakers equipped with the right tools to design and develop these digital systems — and, more importantly, do they have the right testing mentality?

(A university professor’s 3-hour experiment could show that Toyota electronic systems are flawed. Click Here for that story.)

The electrical and electronics complexity inside cars today is enormous, and with relentless attention focused on fuel economy, reduced emissions and improvements in safety, it’s unlikely to abate.  By some estimates, as much as 40% of the value of some premium cars will be in the onboard electronic systems by mid-decade.  It’s like having a full computer network on wheels.

“Frequently a single function – braking, for example – involves multiple electronic control units (ECUs), as well as a lot of application software, communication software stacks, and operating systems,” explains Serge Leef, vice president at Mentor Graphics. His firm markets software that car makers use to verify that the communications between ECUs are transmitted and received accurately and on time.


“There may be one ECU that controls the brake pedal, another for tire rotation information, and another responsible for braking signals – and it’s quite possible that all three ECUs come from different vendors. When you consider what happens when the driver hits the brakes, the opportunities for error from network communication inside the vehicle are phenomenal,” Leef says.

“If all the computers involved come from different sources, and the only way they know how to communicate is because the automaker gave the suppliers specifications for the type and timing of each message, the first time that everything comes together is in the automaker’s lab.”