Results of probe of Toyota acceleration problems expected today
The results of a 10-month federal probe into the possible electronic causes of unintended acceleration in Toyotas are expected to be released Tuesday afternoon, with Department of Transportation officials and scientists from NASA explaining their findings.
After thousands of complaints of unintended acceleration in 2009, Toyota recalled nearly eight million vehicles, blaming problems on two relatively simple mechanical defects: sticking accelerator pedals and floor mats that entrap the accelerator.
But experts continued to disagree whether a defect in engine electronics may have caused some of the incidents of runaway Toyotas, and critics said the increasing complexity of engines, which run on multiple microprocessors and lots of software, made it possible that a computer error could be at fault.
In some models, such as the Camry, the number of complaints of unintended acceleration appeared to jump after the cars came equipped with the new electronics, according to data presented to Congress.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began the study last March at the request of Congress and enlisted NASA engineers to conduct research into whether electromagnetic interference or electronic failures caused the reported incident of unintended acceleration.
As part of their investigation, NHTSA and NASA conducted vehicle tests in which engineers bombarded cars with electromagnetic radiation to see whether such radiation could cause malfunctions. In addition, NASA software experts in California, who were given unrestricted access to Toyota software code, searched for programming flaws that could lead to unintended acceleration. And at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, NASA hardware and systems engineers tested mechanical components of Toyotas to identify conditions that could unexpectedly open the throttle.
Separately, an independent panel of scientific experts at the National Academy of Sciences is conducting a broader review of unintended acceleration and car electronics, this one across the automotive industry. It is scheduled for completion later this year, and could lead to new federal safety standards for the electronics used to control cars.
The final report being released at 2 p.m. Tuesday at a press conference in Washington is unlikely to have a dramatic finding, the Los Angeles Times reported. If the engineers had found a defect, the paper said, "the government probably would have asked Toyota to issue a public notice and recall."
"If they had found something already, we would have heard about it," said Jim Mucciola, an automotive electronics consultant in Detroit and a member of an electronics compatibility committee on the Society of Automotive Engineers. "So far, it has been very quiet."
Earlier Tuesday, Toyota reported a 39 percent slide in quarterly profit but raised its full-year forecasts for car sales thanks to a booming market in Asia and other emerging world economies.
MORE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST ABOUT THE TOYOTA RECALLS:
Photos: 2010 Toyota recalls
From the archives: Toyota stops production, sales of 8 models for gas pedal problem
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