The transportation secretary declares the company's vehicles are safe to drive
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 9, 2011
WASHINGTON » Electronic flaws were not to blame for the reports of sudden, unintended acceleration that led to the recall of thousands of Toyota vehicles, the government said yesterday.
Some of the acceleration cases could have been caused by mechanical defects — sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can become trapped in floor mats — that have been dealt with in recalls, the government said.
And in some cases, investigators suggested, drivers simply hit the gas when they meant to press the brake.
"We feel that Toyota vehicles are safe to drive," declared Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The investigation bolstered Toyota's contentions that electronic gremlins were not to blame and its series of recalls — involving more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 — had directly addressed the safety concerns.
Transportation officials, assisted by engineers with NASA, said the 10-month study of Toyota vehicles concluded there was no electronic cause of unintended high-speed acceleration. The study, launched at the request of Congress, responded to consumer complaints that flawed electronics could be the culprit behind complaints that led to Toyota's spate of recalls.
Recalls to fix sticking accelerator pedals, gas pedals that became trapped in floor mats and other safety issues have posed a major challenge for the world's No. 1 automaker, which has scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability. Toyota paid the U.S. government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of three recalls.
Toyota said the report should "further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles" and "put to rest unsupported speculation" about the company's electronic throttle control systems, which are "well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur."
Toyota reported a 39 percent slide in quarterly profit earlier yesterday but raised its full-year forecasts for earnings and car sales.
Analysts said the report would help Toyota's reputation but that the company would still need to work hard to regain its bulletproof image of reliability. Toyota was the only major automaker to see a U.S. sales decline last year, at 0.4 percent.