Toyota casts doubt on runaway Prius driver's story
Toyota today said that extensive testing of the 2008 Prius hybrid that allegedly took a Southern California driver on a 30-mile runaway ride last week casts serious doubts on his story.
San Diego real estate salesman James Sikes, 61, was the subject of a highly publicized incident on a Southern California freeway last Monday during which he said his Prius' gas pedal stuck, causing his car to speed up to 94 mph. Sikes said he tried to free his gas pedal with his hand, but did not say if he put the car into neutral. He was able to stop the vehicle after calling 911 and receiving instructions from a cruiser that pulled alongside the speeding hybrid.
Toyota and federal government investigators immediately swooped in to examine the car. An initial report of the investigation emerged from a congressional committee on Sunday, saying that investigators could not duplicate the incident.
Today, Toyota made the findings of its investigation public.
"There are significant inconsistencies between the account of March 8 and the findings of this investigation," Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said.
Michel and other Toyota officials said that Sikes' Prius was subjected to extensive testing at a Toyota dealership in El Cajon, Calif., which included inspection of individual parts and vehicle systems, diagnostic testing of the car's on-board computers and data recorder and so on. The front brakes on the car were found to be ground down, or "metal-to-metal," according to Toyota product quality vice president Bob Waltz, so the Prius was outfitted with new brakes and test-driven several times. Toyota and NHTSA officials were not able to duplicate the runaway acceleration Sikes described.
Michel said that if Sikes had heavily applied the brakes simultaneously with the accelerator, as he said he did, "it would have easily stopped the vehicle."
Testing on the Prius showed that the car's brakes had been applied about 250 times during the incident, causing the brakes to overheat. The California patrolman who helped Sikes stop said he smelled brakes burning on the vehicle.
"We think that the vehicle was being driven with its front brakes being applied lightly," Waltz said, because consistently heavy braking would have shut down the engine.
Michel pointed out that Sikes was told by the 911 operator to put his Prius into neutral and to turn off the ignition.
Michel said its investigation of the Prius incident will continue. Toyota provided several Priuses at the news conference so reporters could drive them afterward and see that power to the car's engine is cut when the brakes are applied heavily.
Toyota has recalled about six million vehicles for sticking gas pedals and possible floor-mat entrapment of the pedals. Sikes' 2008 Prius is included in the floor-mat recall.
"To say that this [this incident] was sensationalized is an enormous understatement," Michel said.
Gary Kaminsky, the co-owner of the El Cajon Toyota dealership, appeared at the news conference and said he is so confident in the safety of the vehicles he sells that he would let his daughters ride in a recalled Toyota before the fixes had been performed.
Sikes has said since the incident that he does not seek compensation from Toyota. On Sunday, his lawyer, John Gomez, said it is not unusual that investigators could not duplicate the incident.
Click here to read Toyota's statement on the investigation.
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March 15, 2010; 5:51 PM ET
Categories: Autos , Corporations , The Ticker | Tags: Runaway acceleration, Toyota Prius, Toyota problems, james sikes, runaway prius, toyota
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