"The jury is back. The verdict is in. There is no electronic-based cause for unintended high speed acceleration in Toyotas. Period," U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon announcing results of two studies. "Our conclusion -- that Toyota's problems were mechanical, not electrical -- come after one of the most exhaustive, thorough and intensive research efforts ever undertaken."
Congress requested an examination of the problem last year, following hearings into Toyota's response to claims by owners that their vehicles accelerated uncontrollably. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and NASA, in separate studies, found no evidence that electronic interference played a role in sudden acceleration claims.
The National Academy of Sciences is conducting its own study of unintended acceleration in cars and trucks industrywide. The agency is expected to release its findings this fall.
Adding Brake Overrides?
NHTSA reviewed 280,000 lines of code on nine Toyota vehicles and found no evidence that electronics caused the unintended acceleration. NHTSA also found that human error was to blame in many sudden acceleration claims.
The results affirm Toyota's long-held claim that incidents of sudden unintended acceleration have mechanical causes or "pedal misapplication."
In a written statement, Toyota said it welcomed the findings. "We believe this rigorous scientific analysis by some of America's foremost engineers should further reinforce confidence in the safety of Toyota and Lexus vehicles," Toyota said. Further, the company said it hopes the study would "put to rest unsupported speculation" about its electronic throttle control system.
Rebounding Stock Price
Claims of unintended acceleration led last year to the largest recall of vehicles ever by Toyota -- some 11 million vehicles worldwide, including 8 million in the U.S. The automaker issued separate recalls to address the problem: one to fix bulky floor mats that may interfere with accelerators and another to address "sticky" gas pedals.
The company also began installing brake-override systems, which shunts input to the accelerator should the brake pedal be pressed at the same time. NHTSA received about 9,700 complaints of unintended acceleration by U.S. drivers during 2000 to 2010, including about 3,000 claims involving Toyota vehicles, alleging at least 93 deaths. Five deaths, however, have been linked to the problem.
Despite its recall woes, Toyota's stock price is at its highest level since 2008. Traded on the New York Stock Exchange as American Depositary Receipts, the shares hit a new 52-week high in trading Tuesday morning -- $89.31 a share. That's up 12% for the year.