Remember that whole unintended acceleration thing that supposedly happened with Toyota cars? No, not the one caused by the accelerator pedal getting stuck down; that was legit. I'm talking about the allegation that Toyota cars were plagued by faulty electronics that could cause them to accelerate on their own.
Well, turns out the claims were baloney, at least according to a 10-month government investigation. From the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:
NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high-speed unintended acceleration incidents. The two mechanical safety defects identified by NHTSA more than a year ago -- "sticking" accelerator pedals and a design flaw that enabled accelerator pedals to become trapped by floor mats -- remain the only known causes for these kinds of unsafe unintended acceleration incidents. Toyota has recalled nearly 8 million vehicles in the United States for these two defects.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said, "We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota’s electronics systems, and the verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high-speed acceleration in Toyotas."
For owners of the cars alleged to have been faulty, this is a win. Not only can they get behind the wheel of their cars without worrying their car will go berserk, but their resale values won't take the hit that would have come had the investigation gone the other way.
This finding probably comes as cold comfort to Toyota, which has seen its reputation and sales numbers seriously damaged by the aforementioned massive recalls. Toyota's U.S. sales were down 16 percent year-over-year in January, and it's hard to see how this verdict will change things, at least in the short term. I mean, it's not like you can sell a lot of cars by saying, "Remember those out-of-control Toyota crashes in the media the last couple of years? Not all of them were our fault!"
Still, Toyota can finally put some of its nagging safety concerns behind it and go forward, and maybe the media won't give so much credence to every Toyota critic who comes out of the woodwork claiming they can prove Toyotas are animated by an evil robot intelligence that seeks to run its passengers into the nearest concrete barrier. This verdict is a stark reminder that not every allegation of dangerous faults in autos should be assumed to be true, and those of us who cover autos in the media would do well to remember that.
On the other hand, the company probably never would have been the target of this 10-month probe, authorized by Congress, had it been more forthcoming about its original gas pedal issues, and been less aggressive about trying to put off investigators and evade responsibility for its mistakes. I hope Toyota's learned from the struggles it's had these last few years and will someday return to the kind of bulletproof reliability that once defined its vehicles.