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.