received this email today
Note that GM vehicles have a much better unintended acceleration record, per
the article being fwd'd:
"A Consumer Reports analysis of 166 sudden-acceleration complaints to
federal safety regulators for 2008 found they came from 22 brands, but 41%
came from Toyota or Lexus models. That was more than Chrysler, General
Motors, Honda, and Nissan combined."
"Unintended acceleration remains a rare phenomenon. Based on the Consumer
Reports study,..., about one of every 50,000 Toyota owners experienced it.
That compares with one of every 65,000 Ford owners and just one in every
500,000 GM vehicles sold in that period. But when it does happen, and the
brake can't take control, the consequences can be dire."
Detroit Free Press Greg Gardner Feb. 1, 2010
In today's complex cars, a cell phone, satellite radio or even a
restaurant's large microwave could -- in theory -- cause the accelerator to
surge out of control, according to engineers familiar with electronic engine
And the problem is not limited to Toyota, which is reeling from a recall
over unintended-acceleration issues that forced it to stop selling eight
models last week.
"This problem is well-known to all automakers. If you can solve this
problem, you would be a multibillionaire," said John Liu, a Wayne State
University professor of electrical and computer engineering.
Toyota is phasing in a brake override system on new cars and installing it
on select models going back to 2007. Some competitors already offer some
form of that technology, enabling a driver to rein in any unexplained surge
by stepping on the brake.
Unintended acceleration happens rarely; floor mats, driver error and faulty
gas pedals may be contributing factors.
But most automotive engines today are governed by sensor-driven throttle
systems. Controlled by finely calibrated software, the systems can be thrown
out of whack by signals from cell phones or microwave towers, engineering
Regulators struggle to pin down the problem because replicating the
incidents is nearly impossible.
Liu compares the problem with the jamming of signals on military aircraft.
"The problem is, the expertise for preventing signal jamming rests in the
Department of Defense, not the automakers or their suppliers," Liu said.
Toyota trails competitors in safe-brake technology
Toyota has been hit disproportionately hard by unintended-acceleration
problems because it has been slower than some competitors in introducing
braking technology that could have prevented it, according to safety records
and consumer advocates.
The problem has occurred in almost every manufacturer's vehicles. A Consumer
Reports analysis of 166 sudden-acceleration complaints to federal safety
regulators for 2008 found they came from 22 brands, but 41% came from Toyota
or Lexus models. That was more than Chrysler, General Motors, Honda and
All complaints analyzed were filed before Aug. 28, 2009, more than a month
before Toyota's recall of floor mats that could become trapped in
"You can't wash it away on the basis of probability and blame it on Toyota's
growth," said Sean Kane, a safety researcher for Safety Research and
Strategies in Rehoboth, Mass. "They certainly need to apply the
brake-override technology on all vehicles with electronic throttle control."
Kane's firm has compiled regulatory and accident data back to 1999 that it
said shows 2,262 complaints, 815 crashes, 314 injuries and 19 deaths
attributable to sudden acceleration in Toyota-produced vehicles.
What Toyota has done
Although Toyota has urged replacement of floor mats or gas pedals, engineers
familiar with engine technology said electromagnetic interference from a
range of devices, including cell phones and microwave towers, can disrupt
the electronic signals to the electronic throttle control system, which
controls the accelerator.
"We have not found any evidence that electronic throttle control systems
have been a cause," Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said. "The systems have
multiple redundancies and fail-safes and would store an error code in the
case of a fault."
In November, Toyota announced it would offer a brake-override system to
owners of 2007 through 2010 models of Camry, Avalon, Lexus ES350 and IS250.
The system also will be standard on all new Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles
by the end of 2010, Michels said.
The override technology cancels any signal that triggers an unplanned burst
of acceleration. Chrysler offers what it calls "smart-brake" technology on
every model except the Chrysler PT Cruiser, a company spokesman said. Nissan
incorporates a similar feature in all its models, said company spokesman
Fred Standish. General Motors and Ford did not respond to requests for
Many luxury automakers, including BMW and Mercedes-Benz, incorporate an
electronic offset to their computerized engine-control technology because
they can sell vehicles at a price high enough to cover the added cost. Honda
and Acura do not.
A rare, dangerous occurrence
Unintended acceleration remains a rare phenomenon. Based on the Consumer
Reports study of 2008 complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety
Administration, about one of every 50,000 Toyota owners experienced it. That
compares with one of every 65,000 Ford owners and just one in every 500,000
GM vehicles sold in that period.
But when it does happen, and the brake can't take control, the consequences
can be dire.
Last year, shortly before Toyota's first recall on the issue, an off-duty
California Highway Patrol officer, Mark Saylor, along with his wife, teenage
daughter and brother-in-law, died when a 2009 Lexus ES350 surged up to 120
m.p.h. in the middle of rush-hour traffic in San Diego.
The day after Christmas, four people in a 2008 Toyota Avalon died in
Southlake, Texas, when the driver lost control, and the car left the road,
crashing through a fence and landing upside-down in a pond. Police found the
floor mat in the trunk.
Chuck Eaton, a retired industrial engineer in Greer, S.C., said he has
experienced a surge in his 2006 Toyota Tacoma three or four times, usually
in warmer weather, when he deactivates the cruise control at between 65 and
70 m.p.h., then quickly resets it. But it has never happened in his wife's
2004 Toyota Camry.
"The closest I came to an accident was when I drove into a curve, and the
engine revved from about 2,100 RPM to about 4,500 RPM before I could react
with the brakes," Eaton said. "It did scare me."
Eaton said the floor mat was never caught in his truck's accelerator in any
of those experiences.
Other potential causes
Safety advocates and other critics said there may be multiple potential
causes for sudden acceleration, and therefore, multiple solutions.
But the most puzzling potential cause is electromechanical interference.
Each electronic throttle control component determines the appropriate
position based on signals from three or four sensors. That communication can
be disrupted by signals from a nearby Blackberry, a microwave or radio
transmission tower, said John Liu, a Wayne State University professor of
electronics and computer engineering who has consulted on this technology
For now, the brake-override technology may be the best available solution.
"We still don't completely understand why it's happening or the root
causes," Kane said.