By on March 8, 2010

Toyota and its contracted engineering auditing firm Exponent held a webcast today to refute the claims that Professor David Gilbert has leveled in an ABC report and recent congressional testimony. Gilbert claimed that he was able to induce sudden acceleration without triggering failsafe mode or an error code in Toyotas by hacking into a Toyota pedal. Toyota and Exponent’s central claims are that the conditions created in Gilbert’s test could not be replicated in real life and that similar tests produced identical results in competitor vehicles.


These claims have been raised before, and discussed at some length here at TTAC, and the demonstration was provided Toyota much-needed ammunition to counter the wildest claims that have been leveled against it in recent weeks. Though it didn’t conclusively prove that a pedal could never be affected by mechanical or electronic interference, it did confirm doubts about Gilbert’s test methodology.

But this was a singularly dissatisfying conclusion. After all, Gilbert’s test never claimed to have identified the exact problem, merely that the possibility of an undetectable problem existed. Having achieved similar results to Gilbert’s with competitor automobiles (something Gilbert was strangely unable to replicate), Toyota showed merely that its cars are no more vulnerable to such untraceable errors than any others. What it failed singularly to do is explain convincingly why unintended acceleration complaints are higher in its vehicles. As one questioner noted with frustration towards the end of the webcast, the statistics aren’t changed by this demonstration.

And so, just like the congressional hearings and trial-by media, this latest chapter in the Toyota saga must be placed the “frustratingly inconclusive” pile. In that sense, it’s something of a marginal win for Toyota, even though it does nothing to repair its reputation as a quality-obsessed automaker. And though Toyota and Exponent had little choice but to respond to the many aspersions cast upon them at the congressional hearings, by going on the offense, they managed to look more defensive and less like the victims of a witch hunt.

There is no shortage of losers in the Toyota unintended acceleration drama. Perhaps it’s time to stop holding out hope for the emergence of anything resembling a conclusive truth in the matter. As we’ve noted before, unintended acceleration is rarely a problem with a single identifiable cause.

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16 Comments on “Toyota Casts Aspersions On Unintended Acceleration Aspersions...”


  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    “Perhaps it’s time to stop holding out hope for the emergence of anything resembling a conclusive truth in the matter.”

    Ed, I agree with the rest of your comments, but as for the above quote, I think you are being a bit premature.

    I think now, is exactly the time for Exponent to really roll-up their sleeves and get to work on their Ishikawa diagram. (for those not familiar with this discipline: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishikawa_diagram)
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  • avatar

    You can’t seriously address this situation if one of the primary viable hypotheses – that sudden acceleration is just bad drivers driving badly – is simply excluded from consideration because of political sensitivity. Occam’s razor would say that driver error is the most likely cause of these occurrences, but so much time and effort is being spent on hypotheses that require a combination of multiple system errors/failures + corporate conspiracies + heart wrenching but unverifiable personal stories. Anything and everything but the obvious and simplest hypothesis – most accidents involving modern automobiles are due to human error in some form or another. http://blog.vanno.com/

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      The number of Toyota Camry UA incidents went vertical the moment the MY2002 started rolling off the dealer lot and have stayed wildly above comparable vehicles with a comparable demographic for the past 8 years. The charts displayed at the Senate Hearing and independently created by David Lapidus (his first set) make this point quite graphically.

      Basing a discussion of the Toyota Camry UA issue on the theory that a whole demographic suddenly got stupid would appear to have a very shaky foundation. Some, yes, but a 6x increase??? If you think about it, it would probably take at least a few years for that many people to get that dumb.

      The math does not pencil.

    • 0 avatar
      Audi-Inni

      @CarPerson – well said. @NickD – are you suggesting that the Prius driver highlighted in today’s report was still pressing the gas after having pulled on the pedal, brake smell and smoke coming from his car and the CHP independently stating that his brake lights were on? We all agree that the Audi debacle of the ’80s was a hatchet job. But there’s simply too much information out there now to suggest that all UA incidents are caused by driver error. And if not that, then what?

  • avatar
    amca

    Wait just a second. Prof Gilbert on ABC was very up front: I’m creating a fault that will cause sudden acceleration. He never claimed this would happen randomly.

    Toyota’s now out there saying “this would never happen randomly”, which is exactly what Prof. Gilbert said in the first place. They’ve refuted nothing. This is highly disingenuous.

    Prof. Gilbert’s central point stands: sudden acceleration does not register a fault in the car’s engine computer, and therefore it’s tough to rule out that it happened that way. That was all he said.

    Toyota’s not helping itself here, not with anyone who’s listening closely.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      @ amca

      Exactly.

      All Professor Gilbert said, and demonstrated, was that if there was a partial short between the pedal sensors then a short to supply power occurred, the engine would go to full throttle almost instantly and stay there but no error code would be logged.

      This is the beginning AND END of his testimony of the significance of his testing on the Toyotas.

      He has also stated he tried several things on a Buick LaCrosse and the Buick never went to full throttle and has trapped every one of his test faults.

      Countering those who have chosen to create or repeat re-written history, Professor Gilbert did all of his testing prior to contacting anyone and, obviously, prior to being paid for anything related to it.

      Professor Gilbert is now doing some additional follow-up testing for a modest fee and the loan of some instrumentation, all under the watchful eye of the University.

      Do a search on “David Gilbert” for more.

    • 0 avatar
      leeharvey418

      @amca-

      The thing is, he did explicitly say that this could happen out in the wild. His only caveat was that he made it clear that he wasn’t saying for certain that it had happened.

      I’ve worked in product testing for litigation support before, and IMHO, what Gilbert did seems sleazy. Yes, at the end of the day he demonstrated that a deliberate and contrived modification to the pedal system can give a full-throttle signal to the ECM, but as a failure analysis method to recreate a real-world failure, that demonstration is worthless.

  • avatar
    CatFan78

    Actually I am pretty impressed by the testing that was done and demonstrated today. Pretty much shows what Gilbert and ABC did was not only worthless, but a blatant attempt to mislead the public and garner headlines. Even ABC has now admitted they doctored their video which showed the RPM going up on the Avalon (it was spliced in with video that was taken while the car was sitting still and some person was pressing the pedal). Just like 60 minutes did with the Audi, and Dateline did with the GM, now ABC and Gilbert have been shown to be fakes in this Toyota debacle.

    Toyota and other auto mfg may have issues with electronic throttles, but this scenario only proves, that Toyota actually has a pretty failsafe system (along with all the auto makers). The fact that there are dual sensors which send out different voltages on the pedal position, and the computer must see them within sync, makes me feel better about driving a Toyota, Ford, GM, or Honda.

    Professor Gilbert is being paid by Sean Kane. And Sean Kane admitted in his congressional testimony that he is being paid by 5 attorneys who are suing Toyota over this. Kane and Gilbert are definitely not to be given much credibility, especially now. Kane is still out there saying Toyota’s testing proves nothing. YES it does… it shows he and Gilbert cooked up a fake scheme to damage Toyota. Kane gets paid when his clients win money in court from Toyota and other auto makers.

    This one is done. Time to move on to some other theory.

    • 0 avatar
      Mungooz

      I’m convinced this is a better world in those rare moments when catfan turns off his PC and just sits in front of his TV and watches Fox news.

    • 0 avatar
      CarPerson

      ABC has stated they chose the section of tape shot while the car was stoppd and Professor Gilbert was demonstrating what his testing had discovered because it was more in focus and showed the tach better than the very shakey shot done while the car was in motion.

      After someone started screaming FAKE! FAKE! FAKE!, they spliced in the on-the-road shot and explained the footage.

      Now they will be bashed for using the wild, out-of-focus, high-drama shot to scare and alarm viewers.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Repeat after me: Just trust the big corporation. They have your best interests at heart and would never, ever hide their dirty laundry.

  • avatar
    JohnAZ

    Toyota may have stumbled yet again in this piece by naming other brands that they have tested that supposedly ‘failed’ under the same conditions.
    Each of those named companies may now think that they have a vested interest in distinguishing their ETC System from that of Toyota and refuting the implications in the video. I certainly would.

    If I were Ford or Subaru or one of the other named brands, I would be putting a lot of engineering effort into reviewing the possibilities for failure in their system and that of Toyota. I’m sure if they do that and turn up something, Toyota will get yet another kick in the pants.

    Dumb move Toyota.


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