Last week, Toyota Motor Corporation announced a vehicle-based remedy to address the root cause of the potential risk for floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals in certain Toyota and Lexus models. The solution was to replace the current floor mats, the gas pedal, and to install a brake override system that will cut engine power in case of simultaneous application of both the accelerator and brake pedals.
However, in yet another long article over the weekend in the LA Times, there are doubts that the changes will completely eliminate sudden unintended acceleration (SUA) associated with Toyota vehicles.
The Times story discusses Toyota owners who have removed their floor mats but claim to have still experienced SUA.
The LA Times story also says that it found that SUA shot up immediately after Toyota started using a drive-by-wire system over the past decade. It says, for instance, that the, "... average number of sudden-acceleration complaints involving the Tacoma jumped more than 20 times, on average, in the three years after Toyota's introduction of drive-by-wire in these trucks in 2005."
Toyota strongly disputes that there is anything wrong with their drive-by-wire system, and that their current remedy should be all that is needed.
However, the Times also reports that a National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Research and Test Center laboratory in Massachusetts, in 2008 found that "a Toyota throttle exhibited unusual behavior when researchers applied a magnetic field to the device's sensitive electronics. Engine speed surged by 1,000 revolutions per minute."
"Nonetheless, the lab concluded that the system 'showed no vulnerabilities to electric signal activities.' The details of the experiment were not explained in the lab report, and the agency never explained the apparent contradiction."
As I mentioned before, Toyota better hope that it is correct that its SUA remedy will address the root cause of SUA in its cars. The company's reputation is already taking a hammering not only for the SUA problem, but for other quality problems such as last week's NTSB recall of 110,000 Toyota Tundras.
In other car news, according to the New York Times, the NHTSA is stepping up its investigation of into air-bag problems on about 57,000 2007-8 Kia Sorentos. The NY Times says, the NHTSA is "concerned that a software problem could mistake an adult sitting in the front passenger seat for a child, turning on the 'air bag off' warning light. And in a crash, the air bag might not deploy."
The NT Times says that "Kia told the agency it believed the problem was caused by out-of-position adults who were sitting on the side of the seat. That mimics the pressure of the frame of a child restraint, which is supposed to suppress the air bag."
However, the NY TImes says that the NHTSA "isn't buying" that explanation.
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.