The Obama administration is poised to announce the results of a 10-month investigation into whether faulty electronics played a role in Toyota vehicles’ sudden, unintentional acceleration and other safety problems.
The Transportation Department said it would issue on Tuesday the findings of its study, which has examined whether electronics or electromagnetic interference played a factor in the Japanese automaker’s safety recalls.
Toyota has recalled more than 12 million vehicles globally since fall 2009 to address sticking accelerator pedals, gas pedals that became trapped in floor mats, and other safety issues. The recalls have posed a major challenge for the world’s No. 1 automaker, which has scrambled to protect its reputation for safety and reliability.
A preliminary part of the study, released last August, failed to find any electronic flaws based on a review of event data recorders, or vehicle black boxes. The study has been conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA engineers with expertise in electronics.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declined to comment in advance of the report’s release, saying the department would “talk in great detail about this” Tuesday.
Toyota said in a statement that it looks forward to reviewing the NASA and NHTSA report regarding its electronic throttle control systems.
In Tokyo on Tuesday, Toyota reported a 39 percent slide in quarterly profit but raised its full-year forecasts for earnings and car sales. It’s a mixed picture for the automaker, which is enjoying booming sales in high-growth markets in Asia, Africa and South America, while facing lingering worries about quality lapses in the U.S.
Toyota paid the U.S. government a record $48.8 million in fines for its handling of three recalls. The company has said it has not found any flaws in its electronic throttle control systems and said the previously announced recalls have addressed the safety concerns.
In addition to the recalls, Toyota began installing brake override systems on new vehicles. The systems automatically cut the throttle when the brake and gas pedals are applied at the same time. The company also created engineering teams to examine vehicles that are the subject of consumer complaints and appointed a chief quality officer for North America amid complaints its U.S. division did not play a large enough role in making safety decisions.
Consumer advocates and safety groups raised concerns that flawed electronics could be causing unwanted acceleration in the Toyotas. They have questioned the reliability of the event data recorders studied by the government, saying they could be faulty or fail to tell the whole story of the individual crashes.
Toyota’s safety issues received broad attention from the government after four people were killed in a high-speed crash involving a Lexus near San Diego in August 2009.
NHTSA has received about 3,000 reports of sudden acceleration incidents involving Toyota vehicles during the past decade, including allegations of 93 deaths. NHTSA, however, has confirmed just five of them.
Congress considered sweeping safety legislation last year that would have required brake override systems, raised penalties on auto companies that evade safety recalls and given the government the power to quickly recall vehicles. But the bills failed to win enough support, and it remains unclear if Congress will pursue similar legislation before the 2012 elections.
The National Academy of Sciences is conducting a separate study of unintended acceleration in cars and trucks across the auto industry. The panel is expected to release its findings this fall.