Recalls Won't 'Totally' Fix Acceleration Problems, Toyota Says

In a breathtakingly candid moment, Jim Lentz, Toyota’s chief operating officer, said that the automaker’s recalls over unintended acceleration would “not totally” prevent future incidents. Lentz spoke this afternoon at the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, which held three rounds of testimony regarding Toyota’s recalls of more than 6 million cars in the U.S. Lentz was grilled by lawmakers about the recalls and about the possibility that electronic issues could also cause unintended acceleration on top of the mechanical problems that led to the other two recalls.

In the first round of questions before Lentz’s testimony, the committee established that it would indeed be looking into electronic issues and not what led to the two major recalls.

The first testimony came from Mrs. Smith, a woman who experienced unintended acceleration in her 2007 Lexus ES 350 — a model recalled in last fall’s floormat recall — although she stated the floormat was not trapped in her car. At the time in 2006 Toyota representatives blamed the resulting accident on user error and brakes that weren’t properly maintained. The letter from Toyota said "when properly maintained, the brakes will always override the accelerator." Over the course of the recall process it came to light that while the brakes can slow a car when a floormat is trapping it, the transmission also needs to be put into neutral and when possible the engine shut off. The 2007 through 2010 model year Lexus is also receiving a brake override system for added safety for consumers Toyota said in a recent system.

SIU professor David Gilber who we detailed earlier today was also in this early round of questioning and detailed what was unique about Toyota’s throttle software and sensors that could lead to these instances of sudden unintended acceleration. He was detailed in his descriptions and stated that he performed similar tests on GM and Honda vehicles which both resulted in immediate alerts from those vehicles’ safety systems.

He stated it took him approximately three and a half hours to discover the flaw in Toyota’s system that he then later tested more thoroughly which led to the ABC News story. When asked what the first thing he would do to fix the problem would be, Gilbert immediately responded that he would add a brake override system to every model involved.

Lentz’s testimony was a one-man affair facing down the entire sub-committee as they peppered him with questions, many that he didn’t have the answer to. Besides not being able to confirm the two recalls would prevent all acceleration issues, he said the company has not ruled anything out and would continue to use a third party research firm to look into the issue.

Lentz explained brake override systems could not be added to all models — eight of the recalled 15 models are receiving them — because not all of them have rewritable computer systems, which was not clarified.

Toyota’s Electronic Data Recorders — sometimes referred to as black boxes — were also brought up but Lentz said they are not in place in all U.S. models and there is only one prototype machine that can read them. It has not been used on a number of the cars involved in complaints of unintended acceleration. EDRs will become mandatory in all cars by 2012.

When asked whether any recalls may be forthcoming Lentz replied, “God, I hope there aren’t anymore.”
By David Thomas | February 23, 2010 | Comments (10)

Comments 

MSS

It sounds like they are unsure f how to solve the problem, which leads me to ask why they started selling their vehicles again? If there's no fix, isn't it still illegal to sell the affected models?

Rich1

It propably is illegal. The problem is when you are a powerful car company (not the cars, but the company as a whole), you have tremendous leverage with the legal system. This usually allows you to do whatever you want.

Steve ONeill

Is CELL Phone usage causing the Toyota Instant Acceleration? Its very obvious that a stray CELL Phone Signal is causing the Cruise Control mechanism to Activate and SPEED up the Toyota Cars. Toyota needs to Interview these Victims and try to duplicate the Problem by testing their CELL Phones in the Customer's Toyota Vehicle.

CMcgoo

Seems typical for a big company. Dont know if you had heard the hearings today but looks like they are NOT listening. I heard from an insider that the blame is going to the lack of quality outside of Japan, but it is interesting to note the design is more the problem. Agree with the comment that why are they still selling cars. Remember camry and sienna share same platform along with other lexus brands. They are playing by the numbers and if you are important then they will listen. Will be Ford.

Jones

If it doesn't "totally" fix the problem, should it be called a fix in the first place.

Zerf

I was wondering how long before Toyota would admit to the electronics problem. Hearing from someone who had this problem pulling up the pedal did not stop the engine racing. The car needed to be turned off and back on to finally stop it. Many on this site wrote issues like this off on Toyota bashing or ignorance when in reality it is yet another related problem.

I agree calling this a fix and selling the cars is misleading to customers and dangerous. Those that I knew who were considering Toyota have removed them from their shopping list.

J

As an electrical engineer, I can tell you guys that the cell phone signals do play a part. However, the question is how significant is that signal affecting the throttle signal.

Ira

Every vehicle can have unintended acceleration induced. I don't see any specific evidence proving that Toyota or any other manufacturer has unintended acceleration brought on by faulty electronics, whether by drive-by-wire, shorts, etc, etc. The general public loves negative stories that are devoid of facts. I'm an engineer but I don't think you need to be one to know that if you can't specifically produce a smoking gun then you haven't proved anything.

Ira,
I think the new question is now, anything can be introduced into the system, but that should usually leave an error code, bring up alerts inside the cabin etc. What Gilbert was saying is Toyota's system does not. Whether that's accurate or not I think needs more study by at least one more third party, Toyota, Gilbert and the NHTSA.

Aaron

"Lentz explained brake override systems could not be added to all models — eight of the recalled 15 models are receiving them — because not all of them have rewritable computer systems"

Means we are not willing to pay the cost of replacing the computer because we cheeped out and installed write once memory.

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