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Toyota Electronics, Brakes Under Scrutiny

Toyota's electronics and brakes came under added scrutiny for unintended acceleration and failure to stop problems, including in the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid. Kyodo via AP Images hide caption

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Kyodo via AP Images

Toyota's electronics and brakes came under added scrutiny for unintended acceleration and failure to stop problems, including in the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid.

Kyodo via AP Images

Toyota has apparently convinced itself that the fix to the problem of unwanted acceleration in its cars is due to a mechanical problem in the gas pedal assembly and/or floor mats that interfere dangerously with the accelerator.

But many others aren't so sure. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for one, is examining whether the problem is related to the electronic throttle system in newer Toyota vehicles.

Numerous customers are asking similar questions. One of them is no less than Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who says his Toyota Prius has experienced episodes of unwanted acceleration.

And that's not all. The Japanese government has ordered Toyota to investigate brake problems in the Prius, Toyota's popular hybrid electric vehicle. The braking problem has led to complaints in both Japan and the U.S.

But back to Wozniak. Here's an excerpt from a Bloomberg News story:

Count Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Wozniak among Toyota Motor Corp. car owners who say their vehicles accelerate unintentionally.

Wozniak's 2010 Toyota Prius can unintentionally accelerate to as much as 97 miles (156 kilometers) per hour when he uses cruise control to increase his speed, he said in an interview yesterday. Toyota and the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration haven't responded to his complaints in the past two months on what may be a software-related glitch, he said.

"It's scary when it happens," Wozniak, 59, said from San Jose, California. "I've had trouble getting both the government safety agency and getting Toyota to listen to me.,,"

... While in cruise control, flicking the lever on side of the steering wheel doesn't always increase the speed of the car in increments as intended, Wozniak said. Instead, the vehicle would sometimes continue accelerating until one steps on the brake, he said.

Believing the issue may be software-related, Wozniak, who owns four Priuses, said he took his car to a dealership, contacted Toyota and called the NHTSA about the issue.

Wozniak said he believes the acceleration may be caused by a software glitch because the unintended increase in speed occurs when his feet are on the floor, he said. Wozniak said he would buy another Prius...

As NPR's Frank Langfitt reported for the network's newscast:

Toyota says unintended acceleration is due to either floor mats or sticky pedals.

But federal regulators are taking quote "a fresh look" at electronic throttle systems.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is studying whether electromagnetic interference can cause throttles to suddenly accelerate.

Some Toyota drivers say they've experienced runaway cars in which the gas pedal did not stick on a floor mat. Or stick mechanically.

They blame the electronic throttle system itself.

But Robert Waltz, Toyota's head of product quality, said the have passed all tests.

This is how he put it in a teleconference Monday:

WALTZ: We have never been able to get our systems to fail under any of the tests we've done on them.

That said, federal regulators say they want another look.

Additionally, U.S. lawmakers sent a letter to Toyota requesting more information on when Toyota knew it had a problem with unintended acceleration since company officials have indicated two different time periods, either April/May of 2009 or October.

Furthermore, in their letter Chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) are asking Toyota to explain in detail how it determined that a mechanical problem was responsible for the uncontrolled acceleration.