On top of mounting criticism of mechanical glitches in its cars, Toyota faces a much more complex set of issues related to car electronics, based on consumer complaints and analysis by an electronics engineer familiar with Toyota's history of throttle control.
This comes as political problems continued to pile up for the company, in the wake of of its recall of 6.5 million vehicles--including recent Camrys, Corollas, and RAV4s--because of potential acceleration problems and its subsequent halt of production on the affected models.
The U.S. Department of Transportation upped the pressure on Toyota when the agency's head, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, told owners of recalled vehicles to stop driving them during remarks he made Wednesday before a House appropriations hearing. He later backed away from this statement and said he meant only that Toyota owners who are worried about their cars should take them to dealerships.
And in Japan on Wednesday, authorities told Toyota to investigate reports of faulty brakes on its high-profile Prius hybrid car as federal safety regulators in the U.S. began a broader investigation into Toyota's electronic systems.
The Prius also came under scrutiny this week after Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak claimed that he had been experiencing sudden acceleration in his 2010 Prius because of an alleged "software" glitch.
Wozniak's claim, valid or not, underscores questions about Toyota's electronic systems raised by less-famous consumers. In a well-documented case detailed in a petition to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), Jordan Ziprin claims that, in 2005, when backing out of a driveway near his home in Phoenix, his 2002 Toyota Camry XLE suddenly accelerated and slammed into a utility box.
He did not have his foot on the gas pedal and the car accelerated under its own accord, Ziprin claims. This appears to be an electronic glitch: an issue very different from the mechanical defects cited in the accelerator pedal cases that Toyota is trying to address now with its recall.
"The problem began with 2002 Toyota and Lexus vehicles," Ziprin said in a phone interview. "That was the year that Toyota introduced electronic throttle control," he said. (Toyota introduced it selectively prior to 2002, but first used it on a large scale in 2002.) Reports of unintended acceleration jumped after drive by wire systems were adopted, according to a review by the Los Angeles Times of thousands of consumer complaints filed with the NHTSA.
Toyota, at least publicly, is saying that it has found no evidence of electronic problems. "We have not found any evidence of an electronic problem that would have led to unwanted acceleration," said John Hanson, national manager of environmental safety and quality in Toyota's communications group. "That doesn't mean that we've written it off. We are aggressively investigating any claims."
Hanson continued. "NHSTA over many years of investigation on a wide variety of complaints has found no evidence of any electronic problem with the electronic control system. That doesn't mean it's not possible. We're not ruling out any possibility. And we continue to investigate actively."
The birth of drive-by-wire At the center of the alleged incidents is the electronic throttle control,… Read more