- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Obama administration’s investigation into Toyota safety problems found no electronic flaws to account for reports of sudden, unintentional acceleration and other safety problems. Government investigators said Tuesday the only known cause of the problems are mechanical defects that were fixed in previous recalls.

The Transportation Department, assisted by engineers with NASA, said its 10-month study of Toyota vehicles concluded there was no electronic cause of unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas. The study, which was conducted at the request of Congress, responded to consumer complaints that flawed electronics could be the cause behind Toyota’s spate of recalls.

“We feel that Toyota vehicles are safe to drive,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Toyota said in a statement that 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 it said are “well-designed and well-tested to ensure that a real world, un-commanded acceleration of the vehicle cannot occur.”

Officials with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said they reviewed consumer complaints and warranty data in detail and found that many of the complaints involved cases in which the vehicle accelerated after it was stationary or at very low speeds.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Ron Medford said that in many cases when a driver complained that the brakes were ineffective, the most likely cause was “pedal misapplication,” in which the driver stepped on the accelerator instead of the brakes.

Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since autumn of 2009 to address sticking accelerator pedals, gas pedals that became trapped in floor mats, and other safety issues. The recalls have posed a major challenge for the world’s No. 1 automaker, which has scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability.

Toyota said it was “focused on listening to our customers and constantly improving our products and service.” Shares of the automaker climbed on the New York Stock Exchange after the news. Toyota shares were up more than 4 percent, to 88.94 in late trading.

Analysts said the report would help Toyota’s reputation but the company would still need to work hard to regain its image of sterling reliability. “I think Toyota’s been hit relatively badly,” said David Champion, senior director of auto testing for Consumer Reports magazine.

“I do think they lost direction in some ways. It’ll be interesting to see how they change direction and go back to what they’re good at: Building somewhat boring in some ways but very efficient and very reliable sedans that people want to buy,” he said.

Toyota paid the U.S. government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of three recalls. The company said it has not found any flaws in its electronic throttle control systems and that the previously announced recalls have addressed the safety concerns.

Mr. LaHood said NASA engineers “rigorously examined” nine Toyotas driven by consumers who complained of unintended acceleration. NASA reviewed 280,000 lines of software code to look for flaws that could cause the acceleration. Investigators tested mechanical components in Toyotas that could lead to the problem and bombarded vehicles with electro-magnetic radiation to see whether it could make the electronics cause the cars to speed up.

A preliminary part of the study, released last August, failed to find any electronic flaws based on a review of event data recorders, or vehicle “black boxes.”



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