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US Toyota probe finds no electronic flaws

WASHINGTON, Feb 9, 2011 – Electronic flaws were not to blame for unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles that forced the Japanese automaker to recall eight million cars, a US government probe has found.

"Toyota\’s problems were mechanical, not electrical," Transport Secretary Ray LaHood said, announcing the results of a 10-month investigation that backed Toyota\’s claims.

The probe — which called on NASA scientists to examine whether the acceleration was due to faulty electronics — pointed to two previously known mechanical faults as the sole causes.

The accidents, which have been linked to at least 89 deaths, were blamed on a "sticking" accelerator pedal and jammed floor mats, as the automaker had originally found.

Toyota Motor said the investigation "confirms the reliability" of the company\’s electronic throttle control systems.

"From here on, we intend to listen to our customers even closer and to offer not only safe vehicles but vehicles that provide peace of mind," the automaker said in a statement.

The automaker\’s shares soared 4.58 percent to 3,650 yen Wednesday in the wake of the results of the US probe and on upbeat earnings.

A lawyer leading a class action suit against Toyota in Santa Ana, California noted after the results were released, however: "I don\’t think this report ends this matter one bit."

"As far as we could tell there are thousands of complaints out there from very credible people. Some of our plaintiffs in the case are police officers who didn\’t have a sticky pedal or floor mat problem," said Steven Berman.

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"People have had their cars fixed — the pedals and mats — and NHTSA (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) is still getting complaints," he said.

Amid a rash of injury reports, lawsuits and allegations of a cover-up the Transport Department called in NASA to examine whether there was a broader problem.

The probe analyzed 280,000 lines of computer code used to run Toyota\’s vehicles for electronics problems and examined whether electromagnetic radiation might have played a role.

NASA investigators said electronic problems could result in throttle openings of around five degrees, but that would hardly be felt if the vehicle was already moving.

LaHood described the probe into Toyota and Lexus vehicles as "one of the most exhaustive, thorough, and intensive research efforts ever taken."

LaHood, previously an Illinois congressman, gave the Japanese carmaker a rare endorsement.

"We feel that Toyota vehicles are safe to drive," he said, adding he had recommended his oldest daughter buy a Toyota Sienna minivan, which she did.

Toyota is struggling to recover from its damaged reputation after a series of mass recalls affecting 10 million vehicles worldwide in late 2009 and early 2010.

Its North America division said it appreciated the "extensive review."

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"We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America\’s foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles," said Steve St. Angelo, North America\’s chief quality officer, said in a statement.

Toyota will continue "to cooperate fully with (the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and respected outside experts in order to help ensure that our customers have the utmost confidence in the safety and reliability of our vehicles," he said.

The company has toughened its recall policy to cover around 16 million vehicles between late 2009 and January this year.

Meanwhile the Transportation Department said it would look to impose new regulations requiring brake override systems, standardized keyless ignition systems and event data recorders in all vehicles.

Amid a rapid digitization of vehicles, the department also said it would further research the reliability and security of electronic control systems.

Toyota has paid the US authorities nearly $50 million in penalties related to the recalls.

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