Despite continual assurances from Toyota that a recent rash of uncontrolled accelerations of the company's automobiles aren't caused by their electronic braking systems, the U.S. Department of Transportation will review possible electronic causes for the failures, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said at congressional hearing today.
Although stopping short in declaring that the agency would conduct a full-fledged investigation LaHood told the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will conduct a "very comprehensive review," of the possible electronic causes of the unattended acceleration.
"We are going to do a complete review of the electronics to determine if this is a reason. We heard from enough drivers that we think that it is an issue," LaHood said, adding that the agency has 125 electrical engineers who can be used for the task, and the White House's proposed 2011 fiscal budget for the federal government calls for 66 more positions within NHTSA.
On Tuesday, David Gilbert, a professor of automotive technology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, testified before the House committee that, under certain conditions, runaway acceleration on some Toyotas can be caused by partial or full circuit failure of the electronic throttle control system.
LaHood said the agency will examine this claim, and others, closely.
Toyota officials have attributed the problem to loose floor mats or sticky accelerators, but denied any possible electronics or software-related causes.
"The electronic throttling system is designed for safety first. Whenever there is any abnormality or anomie in [the electronic throttle control] system, the fuel supply to the system is cut off," said Toyota President Akio Toyoda in his testimony before the committee today.
"Even under a very vigorous testing conducted internally or by NHTSA, no problem [or] malfunction was identified. Therefore I am absolutely confident that there is no problem of the design of the system," he said, through a translator.
Toyoda added that, despite the company's confidence in the electronic throttling system, it will be adding an electronic-based brake override system to new models, beginning in the second half of 2010, to address customer concerns.
Thus far, 39 deaths have been attributed to Toyota-related unintended acceleration, and additional 2,500 complaints have been filed with the NHTSA. In response, Toyota has recalled 5.3 million vehicles in the U.S.