March 5, 2010 -- A Toyota-hired engineering firm today challenged the methods and conclusions of a Southern Illinois University automotive technology professor who claimed he found a serious flaw in Toyota's electrical system design.
Professor David Gilbert testified before Congress last month 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. Prof. Gilbert demonstrated his theory to ABC News by deliberately inducing a short that caused a Toyota Avalon to accelerate suddenly without the computer recording an error code, or going into the fail safe mode that is supposed to kill the acceleration.
The engineering firm, Exponent, said while it was able to duplicate Prof. Gilbert's demonstration, the "artificial nature" of his methods required a "complex combination of multiple faults or failures." Exponent said Gilbert's results could only be "contrived in the laboratory" and are "extraordinarily unlikely" to happen in the "real world." Exponent also reported that it was able to use Gilbert's methods to induce sudden acceleration in vehicles made by other manufacturers. The firm said even though the error code was not reported by the car's computer, it would have left other tell-tale electronic "fingerprints."
Exponent's report 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. The Exponent report noted that the tachometer would not rise in the same manner in the real world.
WATCH THE REVISED VIDEO OF GILBERT'S DEMONSTRATION ABOVE, OR CLICK HERE TO WATCH
As noted on the Blotter today, 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. 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.
Prof. Gilbert was not immediately available to comment on the Exponent report. Both he and Exponent have turned their findings over to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for further analysis. Gilbert was paid $1,800 by a safety consultant, Sean Kane, whose for-profit firm works with lawyers currently suing Toyota over the sudden acceleration issue.