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Toyota Hauls Out Experts to Debunk Sudden-Acceleration Demonstration

Toyota officials say an ABC News broadcast that earlier aired a Gilbert demonstration did not identify the source of his funding and edited the aired report in a misleading way.

Toyota Motor Corp. comes out swinging today, methodically dissecting then summarily dismissing a university professor’s claim that a short-circuit could create unintended acceleration in a Toyota vehicle without triggering an electronic error code.

Toyota notes the professor’s research is being funded by Sean Kane, an advocate for trial attorneys suing the auto maker and said a recent ABC News report on sudden-acceleration incidents involving Toyota was edited in a misleading fashion.

Teams of engineering and electronics experts from Stanford University and California-based Exponent Inc., an engineering consulting firm, take turns deconstructing research by Southern Illinois University’s David Gilbert during a webinar for journalists.

Gilbert rewired and reengineered a completely new circuit for a test designed to guarantee an outcome, not imitate anything that could happen in the real world, says Chris Gerdes, a mechanical-engineering professor at Stanford.

Reinforcing the findings of Exponent Failure Analysis Associates, which was contracted by Toyota to look for electronic causes of sudden acceleration, Gerdes shows how Gilbert stripped the insulation off several wires, added an electrical resistor, an entirely new component, and made an electrical on-off switch to create sudden acceleration.

Gilbert’s test car accelerated suddenly because he used an on-off switch to trigger the event, Gerdes says.

Similarly, Exponent principal engineer Subodh Medhekar says Gilbert’s demonstration could create sudden acceleration in any car without leaving an electronic trail but did not represent anything that could happen in the real world.

Underscoring his claims, Gerdes attaches the same reengineered circuit to a number of other cars including a BMW, Mercedes, Honda, Ford and Chevy, creating the same engine revving condition Gilbert demonstrated on a Toyota.

Toyota officials also say an ABC News broadcast that earlier aired a Gilbert demonstration did not identify the source of his funding and edited the aired report in a misleading way. Specifically, when Gilbert triggered the acceleration, ABC News inserted a shot of the tachometer needle immediately racing to the red line, when an examination of that footage shows the car actually was in park when the incident was filmed.

In reality, the engine actually revved much more slowly. ABC since has taken that footage off its website and says the footage of the faster acceleration was inserted simply because the other tape was blurry.

Kane, founder of Massachusetts-based Safety Research and Strategies Inc., releases a statement defending Gilbert’s findings.

“There are conditions in the Toyota and Lexus models tested in which the failsafe redundancy of electronic circuitry in the (electronic throttle control) can be lost – particularly in the (accelerator-pedal position sensor) – without detecting an error code or employing a failsafe mode,” Kane says on his website.

“Once the redundant failsafe is lost and it is not detected as an error, the vehicle is in an unsafe condition,” he adds. “The purpose for setting an error code and putting the vehicle into a failsafe mode is to protect the driver from any further potential scenarios in which the ETC behaves in a manner inconsistent with driver input.”

– with Christie Schweinsberg

[email protected]

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