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The runaway Prius that was the subject of so much media attention last week has been examined by both Toyota and the US federal government (NHTSA). NHTSA isn’t talking, at least not yet, but Toyota is. Toyota released a statement (see below for the full text) today that comes just short of accusing the driver of lying about the incident. While not actually saying he lied, it does say that his account is “inconsistent” with the examination of the actual vehicle that Toyota engineers performed over the last several days. Reports have circulated that the driver, James Sikes, has financial troubles, driving speculation that he is attempting to capitalize on the publicity surrounding the reports of Sudden Unintended Acceleration (SUA) in various Toyota models.

Toyota has steadfastly denied that there is any electronic cause for the problems, saying that the sticking pedal and misplaced floor mats are the only causes for the acceleration problems. Toyota has recalled over 8 million vehicles worldwide to address the problem. The statement shows that Toyota doesn’t intend to go down without a fight in the battle over the SUA problem. Anyone over 35 probably remembers the similar issue surrounding the Audi 5000, made famous by the CBS program 60 Minutes in 1986. Audi’s sales tumbled dramatically in the wake of the report, and took many years to recover. Toyota obviously intends a happier outcome for itself, though its handling of the problem hasn’t exactly been perfect. They’ve let this continue to be front-page news for many weeks now, which is the last thing they want. They need to get this off of the news cycle and let it die down. The longer this stays top of mind, the longer lasting and more damaging the problem will be.

Toyota’s Statement:

Toyota Offers Preliminary Findings From Technical Field Examination of Alleged ‘Runaway Prius’ in San Diego


Toyota Engineers Conclude Two Days of Investigation

Driver’s Account Of Event Inconsistent With Initial Findings

SAN DIEGO, Calif., March 15, 2010—At a press conference today, Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. offered key preliminary findings of technical field examination and testing that were performed on March 10 and 11 regarding an alleged “runaway Prius” event dramatically covered by national news media.

Toyota engineers completed an investigation of the 2008 Prius driven by Mr. James Sikes that was the subject of a 911 emergency call on Monday, March 8. The driver reported that the vehicle was traveling at a high rate of speed, the accelerator pedal was stuck, and that the vehicle was out of control and could not be stopped.  The emergency operator repeatedly instructed the driver to shift the car into neutral and turn off the power button.
A California Highway Patrol officer intercepted the vehicle and instructed the driver to press firmly on the brakes, apply the emergency brake and turn off the car, at which time the Prius came to a safe stop.
While a final report is not yet complete, there are strong indications that the driver’s account of the event is inconsistent with the findings of the preliminary analysis.
Toyota engineers employed data download/analysis, static and dynamic testing as well as thorough inspections of all relative components.  In addition, they retraced the reported driving route taking into account driving time and accounts from the 911 recording.
The investigation revealed the following initial findings:
• The accelerator pedal was tested and found to be working normally with no mechanical binding or friction. It should be noted that the Prius is not subject to a recall for sticking accelerator pedals and the Prius component is made by a different supplier than the one recalled.
• The front brakes showed severe wear and damage from overheating. The rear brakes and parking brake were in good condition and functional.
• A Toyota carpeted floor mat of the correct type for the vehicle was installed but not secured to the retention hooks. It was not found to be interfering or even touching the accelerator pedal.
• The pushbutton power switch worked normally and shut the vehicle off when depressed for 3 seconds as the 911 operator advised Mr. Sikes to do.
• The shift lever also worked normally and neutral could be selected. The neutral position is clearly marked and can be easily engaged by moving the lever left to the “N” marking.
• There were no diagnostic trouble codes found in the power management computer, nor was the dashboard malfunction indicator light activated. The hybrid self-diagnostic system did show evidence of numerous, rapidly repeated on-and- off applications of both the accelerator and the brake pedals.
• After examination of individual components, the front brakes were replaced and the vehicle was test driven, during which the vehicle was observed to be functioning normally.
• During testing, the brakes were purposely abused by continuous light application in order to overheat them. The vehicle could be safely stopped by means of the brake pedal, even when overheated.
The Prius braking system uses both conventional hydraulic friction brakes and a regenerative braking system which switches the electric drive motors into brakes to generate electricity.
The system features a sophisticated self- protection function which cuts engine power if moderate brake pedal pressure is applied and the accelerator pedal is depressed more than approximately 50 percent, in effect providing a form of “brake override.”
This function, which is intended to protect the system from overload and possible damage, was found to be functioning normally during the preliminary field examination.
Toyota engineers believe that it would be extremely difficult for the Prius to be driven at a continuous high speed with more than light brake-pedal pressure, and that the assertion that the vehicle could not be stopped with the brakes is fundamentally inconsistent with basic vehicle design and the investigation observations.
These findings suggest that there should be further examination of Mr. Sikes account of the events of March 8.
NHTSA investigators were present during Toyota’s examination, and are conducting their own investigation of the vehicle and its performance.  Toyota’s examination was also observed by a congressional staff member.
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3 Comments »

  1. This one reminds of the copycats who all found syringes in Coke bottles.

    Comment by jmungar — 15 March 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  2. I think it is pretty much a no brainer that this and many other reports of runaway Toyotas are either conscious or unconscious human fabrications.

    Statistics and probabilities just don’t support sudden spikes in these incidents that just happen to coincide with media hype and helicopter chases in Southern CA.

    It is a shame that the media propagates this baseless hysteria.

    Comment by LTChip — 15 March 2010 @ 8:35 pm

  3. I agree, LTChip. I also think that there is more to this than what we know now. The sticking pedal and the floor mats don’t seem to fully explain the issue. Especially because Toyota blamed on supplier of the pedals but not the other, which happens to be a related company. And the way automotive supply contracts work, both companies were making the same parts from the same specs.

    Comment by Slandy — 15 March 2010 @ 8:38 pm

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