Toyota failures not caused by electronics

A Toyota logo is pictured outside a dealership near Chester in England.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Here's your automotive phrase of the day, from the government's 10-month study of Toyota and its unintended acceleration problems: Pedal misapplication was one likely cause. Drivers stepping on the gas instead of the brake.

Safety officials said they found no link between electronic throttles and runaway cars. Out-of-control Toyotas and Lexuses have been blames for 89 deaths and dozens of accidents. Today the Transportation Department agreed with Toyota about the cause.

Marketplace's John Dimsdale reports.


John Dimsdale: Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says an exhaustive inspection of Toyotas that suddenly surged forward at high speeds found no electronic cause. Toyota's problems, he said, were mechanical.

Ray LaHood: Some Toyota floormats entrapped drivers' gas pedal while their vehicles were in motion. Second, so-called sticky pedals made some Toyota acceleration too slow to release.

The world's largest carmaker recalled eight million vehicles to fix both problems, but only after being prodded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Commission. The company paid a record $49 million fine for its slow response to thousands of complaints. And it spent $2 billion on the recall and mechanical repairs. Toyota sales in the U.S. and Europe have suffered from the publicity over sudden acceleration. Earlier today, before the government announcement, the company reported a 40 percent drop in quarterly profits.

Some car safety advocates, like former Traffic Safety Commission administrator Joan Claybrook, are skeptical the government has found the real cause.

Joan Claybrook: There are hundreds of reliable witnesses who experienced this problem. The inquiry did not really place a lot of effort to get their full story.

LaHood says Toyotas are now safe to drive. Still, government safety officials are considering a requirement that all cars have a brake override system where the brake takes precedence when both it and the accelerator pedal are pushed.

In Washington, I'm John Dimsdale for Marketplace.

About the author

As head of Marketplace’s Washington, D.C. bureau, John Dimsdale provides insightful commentary on the intersection of government and money for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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