By John Dodge
Posting in Technology
Toyota's is taking on its critics, but that doesn't really help the American public understand the truth behind the unintended acceleration problem and how to fix it.
Under siege from every imaginable quarter, Toyota is fighting back against the media and an automotive expert who claims the unintended acceleration could be caused by embedded electronics in the car makers' vehicles.
Today, the carmaker claimed a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article stating 2004-09 Prius models are subject to a new recall was incorrect.
"To be clear, the 2004-2009 Prius was part of Toyota’s November 2, 2009 announcement of a voluntary safety recall campaign to address floor mat entrapment in certain Toyota and Lexus vehicles," Toyota said in a press statement. "There is no new recall being planned for the Prius to address this issue."
However, the WSJ doesn't appear to be backing off because its story still says a new recall is forthcoming and that the reason it hasn't happened is because Toyota has not figured out a remedy to the floor mat accelerator entrapment problem. The WSJ's story has that from a Toyota spokesman on the record (I'd hate to be that guy, right now).
The story is co-authored by WSJ Detroit bureau chief Neal Boudette with whom I worked closely in the nineties at PC Week (now eWeek). For what it's worth, Neal usually got the story right. Of course, a hair raising report of a runaway Prius that hit speeds of 94 MPH yesterday in southern California didn't exactly help Toyota make its case.
Last Friday, Toyota issued a statement claiming automotive prof. David W. Gilbert of Southern Illinois University re-engineered (or rigged - pick your own verb) the auto electronics in a Toyota Avalon to recreate the unintended acceleration problem.
Toyota put the kybosh on that, too.
"The analysis of Professor’s Gilbert’s demonstration establishes that he has reengineered and rewired the signals from the accelerator pedal. This rewired circuit is highly unlikely to occur naturally and can only be contrived in a laboratory. There is no evidence to suggest that this highly unlikely scenario has ever occurred in the real world," Toyota said in a press statement.
Gilbert recreated a fault in the vehicle's electronics in an ABC News segment that originally aired Feb. 22 and was updated on March 5. Gilbert said it could occur "undetected" and result in "instantaneous" and very dangerous unintended acceleration. "This is a serious problem," Gilbert ominously tells ABC TV reporter Brian Ross.
Gilbert explains his work in Youtube video below.
Autoblog has a solid post about how automative electronics work and without coming right out and saying so, seems to discredit Gilbert's work and the ABC report.
"It's clear that [Gilbert] was able to make the car accelerate irrespective of the driver's wishes. It may well be indicative of either a hardware or software defect introduced by Toyota. Does this prove a defect? Not at all. It may be nothing more than proof that Gilbert was able to create a fault condition that could never happen without human intervention. To imply otherwise is unethical on the part of both ABC and Mr. Gilbert," the Autoblog post says.
Here's my bottom line: as someone in the market for a new or one or two year-old vehicle, I would stay away from Toyotas for the moment. There's just too much he said, she said and I have little confidence that for all the media reports and Toyota press statements that we are any closer to the truth.
And what's truth when it comes to something as cryptic as proprietary automotive electronics? The truth about what causes the unintended acceleration and any confidence in a effective remedy to fix it remains elusive. To be fair, the media is stirring the pot, too.
I've always liked Toyotas. Our 1998 Sienna minivan served us well as out kids grew up. What's more, Consumer Reports whose ratings I've always trusted has ranked Toyotas at the top for decades. I wonder, though: where was Consumer Reports on unintended acceleration problem? Good topic for a susequent post.
What do you think?
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Mar 9, 2010
These reports are not just coming out after the recall. They are just getting press now. The previous ones are the resaon for the recall!!!!
Brakes do stop a car, or just put it in Nuteral!! Funny how all these reports are coming out after the recall!!!!! People are looking for a pay day at Toyotas expense!! GM Govt Motors and the UAW started this hype!!!
If these Toyotas simply had a mechanical ignition switch it would make the runaway problem much less deadly but I guess they thought it would be "cooler" to have a software on/of button to start & stop the engine. Let's bring back the mechanical kill switch. Also why won't Toyota let anyone read out the black box in their cars so we can ALL see what happened with the electronics? Maybe because it will show the computer went nuts?
Consumer Reports is not recommending any Toyota models that have had the acceleration problem. They are calling it a "hold" until they are satisfied the problem has been solved. I have wondered why shifting into neutral or hard braking didn't solve the immediate runaway problem. I have to conclude the electronics have a lot more control than I would have guessed. I've never owned a car whose brakes couldn't override the engine, so I have to conclude that the electronics are in charge here. I drive a 10 year old Celica with mechanical linkages for the transmission and throttle, so I have absolute trust that I am in control. The antilock brakes are partly electronic, and have never given me a bit of trouble, but there's always the possibility. I wonder when the first behemoth, like an Escalade shows a software glitch and has the same problem and what damage it will do. "Fly by wire" may be fine for military jets with all sorts or redundancy, but it's not ready for cars.
Plain and simple this is a fault Toyota has to admit. The video at MSN shows a man who was even chaparoned by highway patrol who exlained processes by which to stop a runaway vehicle during the event. Neutral and ignition kill were attempted as was brake application applied hard enough to raise the man from his seat. The brakes were smoked and showed wear to the plates and only slowed a vehicle that any capable brake system should have stopped almost immediately. More than one issue should be approached to Toyota and if only a hit on reputation and litigation is the reult, that's still better than bodily harm or death.
Actually, this whole "runaway" car thing is a plot to rid the planet of intellectually challenged humans. The reasoning is that a person too stupid to immediately shift into neutral needs to be culled from society. Think about it, during a 20 minute run down the freeway, the man had the presence of mind to call 911 and have a conversation but yet he could not shift into neutral? Come on folks! Another "Darwin Awards" candidate if there ever was one.
Without my hands and feet tied you will not see me in a Toyota. Clearly Toyota has no clue how to fix what is obviously a deadly automotive disease. Oh they would like the public to buy one of their "fixes" so they could go on about their secretive business, that's not going to happen. The buzzards are coming home to roost, all the buzzards not one or two. Toyota might as well open the "Book of Knowledge" and begin reading, anything less is not acceptable.
I agree with PartMan1969. Until recently, I did not realize the ignition/kill switch was completely under cpu control in newer cars. There should always be a hardwired means to remove power to the ignition system, ( or fuel in diesel ) In any future car purchases, I will be adding that feature myself if not currently implemented.
I think all manufacturers have to get back to some substantial safety issues wether they wish to accept software issues,faulty gas pedals or floor mats. Brakes used to be able to stop in excess of 10 times their weight at full throttle then came outsourcing and C.A.F.E standards and now we only stop 2 to 3 times their weight at full throttle and now Toyotas can't even stop lightweight hybrids with their crummy brakes. Brakes should be able to stop any vehicle at any throttle speed. NO EXCEPTIONS !!! Many brake systems are even starting to rely on computers between the pedal and the hydraulics of the brakes. This should be considered crazy as all electronics can and will fail. Give me old American cars with brakes that I maintain, and at least I won't travel at 95 MPH uncontrolled down a highway or have to worry about over revving the motor (expensive engine repair) as I slip it into neutral to control it when the brakes won't stop it.
I don't think Toyota's current slogan, "Moving Forward," is helping matters, all things considered. Someone in their marketing dept. needs to wake up...