Toyota disputes critic who blames electronics

Mar 08, 2010 By KEN THOMAS and STEPHEN MANNING , Associated Press Writers
In this Feb. 23, 2010 file photo, David Gilbert, associate professor of Automotive Technology at Southern Illinois University, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, before the House Oversight and Investigations subcommittee hearing on Toyota. Toyota will aim to duplicate the scenario Monday, March 8, 2010, created by David W. Gilbert, a professor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Gilbert told Congress on Feb. 23 that he was able to recreate sudden acceleration in a Toyota vehicle by manipulating its electronics.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, file)

(AP) -- Toyota gave detailed evidence Monday that it says disproves claims that electronics may cause the unwanted acceleration that led to the recall of more than 8 million cars and trucks.

Toyota was attempting to counter tests by an Illinois engineering professor who said Toyota engines could rev without a driver pressing on the gas. The automaker says mechanical problems, not electronics, are to blame.

Chris Gerdes, director of Stanford University's Center for Automotive Research, and a consulting firm, Exponent Inc., said the professor had tampered with wiring to create electronic glitches that could never occur on the road.

The professor's work "could result in misguided policy and unwarranted fear," Gerdes said.

The work of David W. Gilbert, an automotive technology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, has been the basis of many doubts that Toyota's mechanical fixes for unwanted acceleration will truly solve the problem.

Gilbert told a congressional hearing Feb. 23 that he recreated sudden acceleration in a Toyota Tundra by short-circuiting the electronics behind the gas pedal - without triggering any trouble codes in the truck's computer.

"We do not believe that electronics are at the root of this issue," Mike Michels, a Toyota spokesman, said during a demonstration at the automaker's North American headquarters in Torrance, Calif.

Toyota says faulty gas pedals and floor mats, not electronics, are the cause. It is fixing millions of vehicles to correct those problems. But some drivers have reported continued problems in vehicles that have already been supposedly fixed.

Federal safety regulators are investigating complaints over Toyota's repairs. Michels said the automaker is also reviewing the complaints, and that some were the result of bad repairs or other factors.

Gilbert told Congress he made a "startling discovery" that showed the electronic throttle control system could have a problem without producing a trouble code. The code sends the computer into a failsafe mode that allows the brake to override the gas.

House lawmakers seized on the testimony as evidence Toyota engineers missed a potential problem with the electronics that could have caused the unwanted acceleration.

According to Exponent, Gilbert connected sensor wires from the pedal of a 2010 Toyota Avalon to an engineered circuit, revving the engine without using the pedal. Gilbert demonstrated the method in an ABC News story last month.

Exponent said it reproduced the test on the same model year Avalon and a 2007 Camry and was able to rev the engine. But it concluded the electronic throttle system would have to be tampered with significantly to create the right conditions.

"Dr. Gilbert's scenario amounts to connecting the accelerator pedal sensors to an engineered circuit that would be highly unlikely to occur naturally, and that can only be contrived in a laboratory," an Exponent report said.

For example, Exponent said, Gilbert stripped wires in Toyota gas pedal systems of their insulation and used circuits to connect wires that were too far apart to touch each other.

Exponent said it also revved the engine of some Toyota competitors' cars using the same technique, including a Subaru Outback and a Ford Fusion. The automaker stressed its tests did not show any flaws with those models or its own cars.

Toyota's event Monday is part of a broad campaign by the world's biggest automaker to discredit critics, repair its damaged reputation and begin restoring trust in its vehicles.

On Friday, a congressional committee questioned Toyota's efforts to find the causes of the problems. It also questioned whether the company had sufficiently investigated the issue of electronic defects.

executives also will address recall issues at its annual suppliers meeting in Kentucky on Tuesday.

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