Toyota fighting back on tech issues

The Toyota logo is displayed on the grill of a new Camry at Toyota of Marin in San Rafael, Calif.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Steve Chiotakis: Toyota says it has assigned a technical specialist to investigate the company's latest incident. A California police officer slowed a runaway Toyota Prius that had reached 94 miles an hour on a San Diego County freeway yesterday. The timing couldn't have been worse for Toyota. Yesterday, the company held a news conference to rebut an ABC News story that allegedly shows how miswiring can cause unintended acceleration. Marketplace's Alisa Roth joins us live from our studio in New York with the latest. Good morning, Alisa.

Alisa Roth: Good morning.

Chiotakis: Tell us a little bit about this ABC News report and what Toyota is saying about it.

Roth: Well late last month, ABC interviewed a university professor who said he'd figured out a way to change the wiring on a Toyota to make it accelerate really fast. Now here's some tape from the report. That's Brian Ross, the reporter for ABC, who's driving the car.

Brian Ross: The brakes don't work. The brakes give out. Geez.

Now technically speaking, it was that there was too much acceleration, not that the brakes didn't work. But in any case, this professor says his experiment shows Toyota's acceleration problems could be caused by electronics. That's something that Toyota has denied repeatedly. At the press conference yesterday, Toyota said you could force any car from any company to accelerate if you rewire the circuits that way. But more important than those accusations is that it looks like Toyota is finally fighting back. Apart from all the safety issues it's been dealing with, there's been a lot of criticism of Toyota's handling of this whole problem from a PR standpoint. And this suggests that Toyota is really trying to get its act together on that front.

Chiotakis: All right Alisa, but if the California Highway Patrol is having to help get a runaway Prius under control, it sounds like there might be a real problem, right? Or still be a problem.

Roth: Well sure. I don't think anybody's denying that there are probably some real safety and quality issues going on with Toyota right now. And maybe the company hasn't been as responsive to those concerns as it should have been. Maybe it did cover up some problems. Hopefully all of that will hopefully turn up in the various investigations that are going on. But it's still important to remember that even if you take the most liberal estimates of how many actual incidents there've been, the total numbers just aren't very high. And so of all the things to worry about when driving, unintended acceleration should probably be pretty low on the list.

Chiotakis: Marketplace's Alisa Roth covers the car industry for us, she's reporting from New York this morning. Alisa, thanks.

Roth: You're welcome.

About the author

Steve Chiotakis was the host of Marketplace Morning Report until January 2012.

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