Toyota USA officially announced yesterday that it had found a solution for "sticking" accelerator pedals that prompted it to recall millions of its vehicles last week and stop production of those vehicle models at its plants.
According to Toyota's press release, "Toyota’s engineers have developed and rigorously tested a solution that involves reinforcing the pedal assembly in a manner that eliminates the excess friction that has caused the pedals to stick in rare instances. In addition, Toyota has developed an effective solution for vehicles in production."
Parts are being shipped to Toyota dealers which will be working around the clock literally to install them on the affected recalled vehicles, the company says.
Toyota believes that the fix and the replacement of car mats will solve the dual problems of sticking accelerators and sudden unintended accelerations (SUA) that have been reported in its vehicles.
Others are not so sure. There still remains a strong suspicion by many Toyota owners and others that there is also problem with Toyota's electronic engine control technology. A story in yesterday's Detroit Free Press has likely served to increase that suspicion.
The story says that theoretically, a cell phone, satellite radio or even a restaurant's large microwave could cause an electronically controlled car's accelerator to surge out of control.
The story quotes John Liu, a Wayne State University professor of electrical and computer engineering, who consults to the auto manufacturers as saying, "This problem is well-known to all automakers. If you can solve this problem, you would be a multibillionaire."
Professor Liu, the story says, compares it to the problem with the jamming of signals on military aircraft.
"The problem is, the expertise for preventing signal jamming rests in the Department of Defense, not the automakers or their suppliers,' Professor Liu says.
Of course, proving that electronic interference is causing SUA in some Toyota vehicles is another story.
Yesterday, Toyota's U.S. president Jim Lentzwas asked by ABC News whether there were any electronic problems with Toyota cars, and he said, "I'm confident that there are no electronic problems."
Today, Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki, who oversees quality control at Toyota, also said there were no electronic problems in Toyota's vehicles.
That may indeed be the case. However, other statements by Mr. Lentz makes one wonder if there are not some other problems in Toyota's cars that haven't been discovered yet.
In statements to the press yesterday, Mr. Lentz repeatedly and very carefully said, "These two fixes solve the issues that we know of."
Last year, Toyota said replacing car mats and shaving some gas pedals would solve the problem. Now it says it is car mats on some cars along with pedals wearing on others. I guess the pedal wearing problem was not a "known problem" late last year, even though the issue was raised by safety regulators in at least 2007.
As I mentioned a few days ago, the House Energy and Commerce Committee of the US Congress announced that it would be holding hearings on Toyota's problems on the 25th of February. In a bid to garner the political limelight, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform has decided to hold a hearing on the 10th of February.
Toyota executives as well as the US National Highway Transportation Safety Administration leadership can expect a hostile reception by both committees.
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.