Reports from multiple news outlets cite sources within the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration who claim the government is now looking into electrical problems as the source for Toyota's recall troubles. The unnamed agency employee reportedly told CNN that the government is investigating whether electromagnetic interference might cause the electronic throttle control system to malfunction. The source went on to add that the agency has found no evidence of problems with the electronic throttle, though engineers at NHTSA were still actively investigating the matter.
News of a possible electronics investigation comes not long after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood claimed that NHTSA "wasn't done with Toyota," and that the Japanese automaker was "a little safety deaf." Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota's vice president in charge of quality, reportedly claimed that the embattled automaker has never found any evidence of electrical problems, a familiar line from the automaker that we've heard since the latest recall was announced. Toyota has been quick to state, however, that it will do anything possible to cooperate in the investigation.
At least one safety expert feels NHTSA should have investigated electronic issues long ago. Sean Kane, president of Safety Research Strategies, said in a recent interview that "by all appearances, electronics are playing a significant role in the problems." Kane says 2002–2006 Camry and 2005–2007 Tacoma models should specifically be investigated, and he points to a case of a 2005 Camry owner who experienced unintended acceleration as he attempted to park. The driver instead launched 23 feet and then dropped off of a 70-foot cliff, killing the driver's wife. Kane says the floor mat was securely fastened to the floor when the accident occurred.
As is typically the case with "anonymous sources," we expect an announcement from NHTSA any day now. Is the safety organization trying to show Congress just how hard it's working to find a solution for Toyota's problems in advance of the February 10 hearing on Capitol Hill? Could be, but more negative press is the last thing Toyota needs right now.
[Source: CNN Money | Automotive News – sub. req.]