Oct. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. said it hasn’t found evidence electronic throttle controls triggered unintended acceleration after its engineers and technicians studied more than 4,000 U.S. vehicles whose drivers made such complaints.
“Toyota has not found a single case in which electronics would lead to sudden unintended acceleration,” Steve St. Angelo, the company’s North American chief quality officer, said in a conference call yesterday. Toyota has investigated 4,200 individual acceleration-related complaints so far, he said.
The world’s largest automaker is working to improve its quality and brand image after global recalls of more than 8 million vehicles for defects linked to unintended acceleration. Safety Research & Strategies Inc., an independent safety advocate that works with plaintiff attorneys, and reports by media including the Los Angeles Times have suggested Toyota’s electronic throttle-control system plays a role in sudden acceleration, an assertion the carmaker denies.
U.S. customer complaints of sudden acceleration have dropped 80 percent since April, Toyota said in a statement.
Toyota fell 0.2 percent to 2,957 yen as of 9:05 a.m. on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The shares have declined 24 percent this year.
The Toyota City, Japan-based company said it has added so-called brake-override control to 84 percent of Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles on sale in the U.S. and will be the first carmaker to offer the safety technology across its lineup. The software is designed to disengage a jammed accelerator when the brake pedal is pressed.
The system “can’t intervene if a driver incorrectly steps on the gas pedal alone when he meant to go for the brake,” said Dan Edmunds, head of vehicle testing for industry data website Edmunds.com in Santa Monica, California. “This happens quite often, and that’s why we don’t expect so-called unintended acceleration complaints to fully disappear anytime soon.”
About 5 million recall-related repairs to fix sticky gas pedals and replace floor mats at risk of jamming the accelerator have been completed so far, Toyota said.
Toyota is being sued by Allstate Corp. and affiliates of the insurer, which say they have paid $3 million for accidents caused by sudden acceleration.
Toyota “had full knowledge of the numerous complaints regarding its vehicles, that such vehicles were susceptible of sudden unintended acceleration, and thus that such vehicles posed a significant risk of property damage, as well as physical injury to vehicle occupants and other motorists,” Allstate said Oct. 1 in a complaint in California state court.
U.S. Government Scrutiny
Sudden acceleration has accounted for at least 725 accidents with 304 injuries and 18 fatalities, Allstate said, citing Safety Research & Strategies.
The case is Allstate Insurance Co. v. Toyota Motor North America Inc., BC446704, Los Angeles County Superior Court.
Toyota teams sent to meet with customers who complained about acceleration found cases of recall fixes that hadn’t been made to vehicles or in which stacked or incompatible floor mats were still being used, Bob Waltz, U.S. vice president for product quality and service, said on the conference call.
In other cases, reviews of data recorders on some vehicles revealed that the accelerator rather than the brake pedal had been depressed by mistake, Waltz said.
The company is working more closely with suppliers in North America to review parts designs and manufacturing processes and to test components more thoroughly, St. Angelo said.
Toyota is cooperating with federal probes that continue to look into potential electronics flaws and how the company handled past recalls, and doesn’t know when they’ll conclude, St. Angelo said.
Toyota’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California.
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