Toyota today issued a sweeping rebuttal to the findings of Professor David Gilbert, the auto expert who claimed in an ABC News report and in Congressional testimony to have found a possible problem in the electronics of Toyota cars that would mask the source of sudden acceleration.
In a press conference and demonstration broadcast on the internet, Toyota executives and engineering consultants asserted that Gilbert, who said that certain short circuits could cause sudden acceleration without generating an error message that would cause the car to decelerate, had created conditions that would not occur during the actual use of a car.
Toyota spokesperson Mike Michaels, in introducing the experts, said that Toyota 's demonstration would "do what Dr. Gilbert and ABC should have done before their rush to judgment."
Dr. Shukri Souri, head of electrical and semiconductor research at Exponent, an outside engineering firm that has conducted safety tests for Toyota since being retained last year, said that Gilbert, an auto technology professor at Southern Illinois University, had essentially rewired the car to create an unrealistic condition.
"Dr. Gilbert provided no evidence that his scenario occurs in the real world," said Souri. "I can take a vehicle or appliance, determine what I want it to do and have it do that." Souri said what Gilbert had demonstrated was not evidence of a design flaw.
"It would be unreasonable for a manufacturer to design a strategy for modification that would not occur in the real world," said Souri.
Toyota spokesperson Mike Michels said that Exponent was able to conduct tests that replicated the short circuit in other vehicles besides Toyota, and that in those other vehicles, the same short circuit also did not produce an error message. "There is no suggestion of a defect in any of these vehicles," he said.
Souri also said that the short circuits induced by Gilbert were not likely to occur during the actual use of a vehicle, and that if corrosion or abrasion were to cause short circuits, there would be physical evidence of the problem in the vehicles.
According to Souri, none of the Toyotas inspected after sudden acceleration incidents showed any corrosion or physical defect in their electronic circuitry.
The presentation also called into question an ABC News internet video of Gilbert's demonstration, noting that an insert shot of the vehicle's tachometer was clearly taped while the car was parked with the doors open.
As reported on the Blotter last week, ABC News taped multiple demonstrations by Gilbert, and the shot of the tachometer that was recorded as the car was rolling was not originally used in the web video because of its shaky nature.
As noted by Exponent representative Matthew Schwall during Toyota's presentation, that shot can now be viewed on the updated clip at ABCNews.com. The engine's surge was comparable in all of the demonstrations performed by Gilbert as he induced the short.
Contacted by ABC News, Prof. Gilbert said he wanted to review the Toyota webinar further before offering detailed comment, and that he would visit Exponent to discuss the firm's findings.
"I will examine their expanded results and conclusions along with my own," said Gilbert. "I will visit Exponent next week to get a first-hand look at the information presented today and discuss their methods and procedures."
Gilbert said he hoped to complete his review "within the next few weeks."
Auto safety expert Sean Kane, whose private safety firm hired Gilbert to test Toyotas, said the Toyota demonstration misstated what Gilbert had done, that it was never meant to show a real world condition, and that what Gilbert had done was simple rather than difficult.
"We heard a lot about reengineering, rewiring, reconfiguring and this was nothing of the sort," said Kane. "It was simply a connection of the resistance to the circuit."
"The significant reengineering they describe is really nothing more than very basic test methods that are used in labs regularly by people like Dr. Gilbert and other folks that do automotive technology work," said Kane.
Kane said that Gilbert was not trying to suggest a specific scenario for short circuits, merely that it was possible to create one, and that some means would not require abrasion or corrosion to the wires. "We don't know why, how that can happen in the real world," said Kane. "It is possible that it can happen and the reality is that Toyota's system will not pick that up as an error code."
"The study was simply can we look at the Toyota system and see if the system can miss some important faults," said Kane. "And the answer is yes, it can miss some important faults."
After ABC News aired a report on Gilbert's findings, on February 22, Gilbert was called to testify before the House Commerce Committee the next day.
At that hearing, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told Congress Tuesday that his agency would follow up on the alleged electronic problem discovered by Gilbert.
"You have my 100 percent commitment," said LaHood when asked by Rep. Bart Stupak if he would be following up with Gilbert.
"We are going to get into the weeds on the electronics," said LaHood. "We are going to look at the Southern Illinois University data."
Professor Gilbert testified that a flaw in the design of Toyota's electronic acceleration system prevents the car's onboard computer from detecting and stopping certain short circuits that can trigger sudden speed surges.