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Posted on Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 3:02 p.m.

Toyota Technical Center near Ann Arbor assumes role in sudden acceleration investigation

By Nathan Bomey

Engineers from the Toyota Technical Center - located south of Ann Arbor - are now playing an active role in the Japanese automaker’s efforts to fix the sudden acceleration issue associated with its recalled vehicles, an executive confirmed today.

Toyota’s 1,100-person York Township engineering operation is playing an increasingly visible role in the automaker’s coordinated effort to debunk claims that the sudden acceleration issue is connected to electronic throttle control systems or software problems with its vehicles.

Kristen Tabar, general manager of electronics systems for the Toyota Technical Center, today participated in a high-profile demonstration for media in California, where Toyota engineers sought to discredit claims about the role of electronic throttle control problems in the sudden acceleration incidents.

Tabar also said today that Toyota is about halfway through a four-year project to construct an vehicle-size electromagnetic testing chamber at the Toyota Technical Center. She said Toyota can conduct electromagnetic testing on individual parts, but not entire vehicles, in York Township.

Her participation in today’s media briefing comes as Bruce Brownlee, senior executive administrator for external affairs at the Toyota Technical Center, told today that local engineers are now participating in the Japanese automaker’s efforts to fix the sudden acceleration issue.

Toyota seeks to discredit professor's claims

Brownlee maintained Toyota’s previous statements that the Toyota Technical Center had nothing to do with the problems associated with the recall. He said the issues originated from the automaker’s Japanese operation.

“We are supporting the various investigations that we’re conducting,” Brownlee said.

Toyota today gathered a group of engineers and external experts for a Webcasted media briefing to discredit findings aired by Southern Illinois University Professor David Gilbert on ABC was illegitimate. Gilbert also shared his findings in Congressional testimony last month.

Gilbert’s assertions caused concern that the sudden acceleration problem was connected to the defects in the vehicles’ electronic throttle control systems. Toyota has maintained that the problems were related to sticky accelerator pedals or floor mat problems.

But engineers argued in the Toyota briefing that Gilbert had artificially “rewired” circuits in the Toyota Avalon he tested. The sudden acceleration issue Gilbert demonstrated on ABC is not something “that might actually occur in a car,” said Chris Gerdes, a mechanical engineering professor and director of the Center for Automotive Research at Stanford University.

“I am concerned that these misinterpretations are driving public fear and public policy,” Gerdes said. “You cannot rewire a circuit and expect it to behave as it was originally designed.”

Taber added: “It’s not even a realistic, real-world” scenario.

Still, doubts persist - and Toyota executives acknowledged in today’s media briefings that they cannot fully rule out the possibility that software issues or electronic throttle control are at fault.

Bruce Belzowski, assistant research scientist for the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, said he was unsure whether electronics were the root cause of the acceleration problems.

Belzowski said Toyota’s decision to publicly condemn Gilbert’s study was a bold move that could alternately soothe public concern or backfire.

“As a company, if you’re very confident in what you’re doing and you see people making what you think are false claims, calling them out on it’s not a bad idea,” Belzowski said.

But Belzowski emphasized that the sudden acceleration problems have always been notoriously difficult to diagnose, regardless of the automaker.

“This happens to be one of the more difficult problems that companies face,” Belzowski said.

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Michael Smeltzer

Wed, Mar 17, 2010 : 8:08 a.m.

It may not be Toyota's fault. Several years ago I did some research for a book. Part of that research included "semiconductors". My research revealed that modern semiconductors are susceptible to external influences like EMP, RF wave form and even time reversed scalar waves. These outside influences can cause sudden reverse polarity in semiconductors or sudden shutdown or lockup, without burning out or changing the basic overall functions. Scenario could be that a car could pass close to a device that's radiating one of these waves and was "on" during the time period in question. Later attempts to replicate the "failure" will show no results with zero repeat of the "supposed defect". Toyota may want to consider "military style shielding" for all controlling electronics.


Thu, Mar 11, 2010 : 10:07 a.m.

One can only hope the current accelerator wasn't designed here. It is flawed and we are tired of the cover-ups and lies we are getting from corp Toyota. They are busted and need to admit they screwed up. Ford had to take the hit and didn't lie about they tires the Firestone mis-manufactured, but they corrected the problem and went on with business...Toyota has let their arrogance stand in the way of a real fix.

Basic Bob

Tue, Mar 9, 2010 : 8:01 p.m.

Japanese software is notorious for being poorly written and easily broken. They are decades behind the US and Europe in software engineering methods. Much of that modern programming languages are written using an alphabet, which is different from the Japanese script. This is the typical response one gets when a Japanese system fails: 1. we can't duplicate the problem; 2. there must a problem with your system, it doesn't happen in the laboratory; 3. Only Japanese engineer can request the technical documents and source code, US engineers working for Japanese company can't; 4. This is the responsibility of a different department, you will need to request help from them.


Tue, Mar 9, 2010 : 4:32 p.m.

"US engineers aren't smart enough to understand the concept of "Japanese quality". I beg to differ..US Engineer Deming is the one who taught the japanese about statisical quality control(after doing it for the US military during WW2) post war US auto folks wern't interested in Deming and his "quality ideas" but the japanese were...the rest is history as they say.


Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 9:02 p.m.

Who cares? Ford, GM, and Chrysler's centers are at least five times as large as Toyotas and employ five times as many people in this state. That is not to mention the 40 or so manufacturing plants the Big Three have in this state compared to Toyota's zero.

John of Saline

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 5:03 p.m.

I'm not sure Toyota's present tagline, "Moving forward," is the best choice given their sudden acceleration issues.

Nathan Bomey

Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 4:16 p.m.

Toyota says it has about 33,400 employees in the U.S. Most of those work at manufacturing plants, however. The company's U.S. engineering work is largely concentrated at its York Township and Kentucky operations, although some design work is done in Los Angeles.


Mon, Mar 8, 2010 : 4:06 p.m.

How much core engineering is done in the U.S.?