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Results of Toyota's tests of runaway Prius 'inconsistent' with driver's account

The carmaker says it failed to reproduce the stuck accelerator that a motorist says took him on a wild ride near San Diego last week.

March 15, 2010|By Tony Perry | Nathan Olivarez-Giles
  • A test driver slams on the brakes to stop a Toyota Prius going 85 mph in a demonstration on a closed course in the parking lot of Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego.
A test driver slams on the brakes to stop a Toyota Prius going 85 mph in a demonstration… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from San Diego and Los Angeles — Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday that its preliminary investigation into a runaway Prius incident a week ago resulted in findings "inconsistent" with the driver's account.

The automaker said at a San Diego news conference that two days of testing failed to reproduce driver James Sikes' reportedly stuck accelerator, leading to a nearly 30-minute ride on Interstate 8 before he could get the car stopped.


FOR THE RECORD:
Toyota incident: An article in Business on Tuesday described efforts by Toyota Motor Corp. to replicate an incident in which a driver said his Prius accelerated uncontrollably. The subheadline, "Toyota says it couldn't make the car involved in last week's incident malfunction again," erred in using "again." As the article pointed out, it has not been conclusively determined whether the vehicle had malfunctioned. —

An examination of Sikes' car shows that it would have stopped if the driver had stepped aggressively on the brake, said Bob Waltz, the auto company's vice president of product quality and service support.

Sikes' statements that he hit the brakes hard "is not consistent" with the investigation, Waltz said.

But The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has also been examining Sikes' 2008 Prius, said that testing might not be able to reproduce the incident.

"We would caution people that our work continues and that we may never know exactly what happened with this car," the agency said in a statement.

"It is rare to recreate these unintended acceleration incidents except in floor mat entrapment cases."

The agency also said its testing has not found a cause of the incident.

Sikes has not given interviews since he appeared at two news conferences following the incident. His attorney, John Gomez, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

Over the weekend, Gomez said his client was sticking to his story and that a "ghost-in-the-machine" type of software failure, if to blame for the incident, would be difficult to reproduce in testing.

Gomez also said Sikes was not planning to sue Toyota.

Toyota executives steered clear of saying that Sikes was not being truth- ful.

"We have no comment on Mr. Sikes' story," said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels.

Toyota said Sikes' accelerator pedal worked normally in testing, with no interference caused by the floor mat problems that led to 2004-09 Priuses being recalled by the automaker in November.

The front brakes on Sikes' car were badly worn, with metal rubbing against metal, but Toyota said that even in that condition the car could be stopped.

The company also said that it found no diagnostic trouble codes that should have registered in the Prius' power management computer after such an incident, and that the car's rear brakes showed normal wear.

Toyota said the push-button power switch on the Prius was working normally and shut off the car during testing.

Rep. Darrell Issa of Vista, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that has been investigating Toyota, warned Monday against forming premature conclusions based on the testing.

"Vilifying or making rushed judgments won't ultimately improve the situation and doesn't change the fact that for the better part of a decade, both industry and regulators neglected their responsibilities to put the safety of America's drivers first," Issa said in a statement.

The congressman sent a member of his staff to observe NHTSA's inspection of Sikes' Prius last week.

"There are dozens of reports of unintended acceleration still outstanding," Issa said. "If there is an unknown or unreported mechanical and electrical issue, the subsequent investigations into other cases might produce a pattern that can explain what went wrong and why."

tony.perry@latimes.com

nathan.olivarezgiles

@latimes.com

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