Yesterday, Toyota held a news conference that was broadcast over the Web disputing the findings of Professor David Gilbert of Southern Illinois University which were broadcast by ABC News and can be seen online claiming there is a flaw in Toyota's electronic throttle system.
In the ABC News story shown on the 22nd of February, Professor Gilbert purportedly showed, "A flaw in the design of Toyota's electronic acceleration system prevents the car's onboard computer from detecting and stopping certain short circuits that can trigger sudden speed surges ..."
"As a result, Gilbert told ABC News, the Toyota computers will not record an error code, nor will they activate the 'fail safe' system designed to shutdown the power and put the car in the 'limp home' mode."
You can watch the video of the demonstration here.
Professor Gilbert also testified in front of Congress about his findings during the US House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearings on the issue of Toyota vehicles' sudden unintended acceleration.
Toyota says that it has concluded after its investigation by: (1) engineers at the company Exponent which Toyota has hired to determine if electronics were causing runaway cars, and by: (2) Dr. J. Christian Gerdes, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University and the director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford (CARS), that (quoting):
- The vehicle’s electronics were rewired and reengineered in multiple ways, in a specific sequence, and under conditions that are virtually impossible to occur in real-world conditions without visible evidence;
- Toyota vehicle electronic systems were actively manipulated to mimic a valid full-throttle condition;
- Substantially similar results were successfully created in vehicles made by other manufacturers.
You can review Toyota's supporting material for its conclusions here.
Toyota further cast doubt on Professor Gilbert's objectivity by saying he was working for Sean Kane, a paid advocate for trial lawyers suing Toyota.
Toyota also has posted a video by Kristen Tabar, general manager of electronics systems, Toyota Technical Center, that addresses Toyota's "concerns" with Professor Gilbert's findings, which the company claims has "misled" the "public and Congressional committees."
Dr. Gilbert said in response that he would examine Toyota's rebuttal to his work and answer them over the next few weeks. However, Sean Kane, who runs Safety Research & Strategies, Inc. responded that Dr. Gilbert's test showed - and Toyota's own tests confirmed - " ... Toyota’s failsafe system does not always detect critical errors or go into failsafe mode as the company has claimed."
Edmunds.com senior editor Bill Visnic said, quoting from the Washington Post, "Toyota really chipped away at the evidence provided by Dr. Gilbert during the congressional hearings... Toyota demonstrated today that Gilbert's hardware test does not provide a uniform probable cause for all unintended acceleration claims."
Edmunds.com says that it will pay $1 million to anyone who, under controlled conditions, can "re-create unintended acceleration in a car and then solve that problem and prove the whole thing." From comments made so far, Risk Factor readers have not been too impressed with the offer.
While Toyota may have blunted Professor Gilbert's claims, it is unlikely to stop the flood of stories as to the cause of its runaway cars.
For instance, the chairperson of US House Energy and Commerce subcommittee for investigations asked Toyota last Friday for its internal test reports showing that electronics are indeed not the cause of the complaints about its runaway cars.
Then yesterday, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee told Toyota that it wanted a copy of a memo that its workers supposedly sent to Toyota management in 2006 outlining safety concerns which the workers say were ignored. The Los Angeles Times reported on the memo Sunday.
There was also an AP story over a few days ago claiming that Toyota has not been forthcoming about the information contained in its vehicle's event data recorders (EDR), thereby making it hard to determine what the causes of runaway crashes might be. The story says, "Toyota has been inconsistent - and sometimes even contradictory - in revealing exactly what the devices record and don't record, including critical data about whether the brake or accelerator pedals were depressed at the time of a crash."
Two weeks ago, Toyota announced that it was going to be shipping hundreds of EDRs to the US and making them commercially available. As recently as December, Toyota had maintained that the single device reader it had in the US was only "a prototype."
In addition, Toyota says that complaints about runaway cars after they have been fixed is mostly likely due to the fixes being done incorrectly at its dealerships, according to this story in the New York Times yesterday. If done properly, there should not be a problem Toyota said.
Finally, there is a Reuters story today filed from Tokyo that says that Japanese car manufacturers such as Honda Motor, Mitsubishi Motors, Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries, Suzuki Motor, and Toyota unit Daihatsu Motor are all considering brake-override systems for their vehicles. Toyota has recently said that it will be introducing the system into all of its future vehicles, while Nissan already has it as standard equipment on nearly all its vehicles.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.