US: Toyota studying pedal placement - quality chief
Toyota had to recall some cars to modify so-called sticky accelerator pedals
Toyota is studying the design and placement of its accelerator and brake pedals to see whether the current layoutp makes drivers more prone to hit the wrong one.
Chief quality officer for North America, Steve St. Angelo, told the Wall Steet Journal: “We are continuing to look to see if there is something that we could do differently."
The answer is important for the car maker as well as US auto safety regulators after Toyota recalled more than 8m vehicles globally because of defects that allegedly caused some of its cars to speed up unexpectedly.
One defect was bulky floor mats that could trap the accelerator pedal, while another was sticky pedals that were slow to come back up after the driver's foot was removed.
But many of the reports of sudden acceleration appear to have another cause. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently examined 58 Toyotas involved in crashes blamed on sudden acceleration and its preliminary findings point to pedal misapplication - the driver hitting the accelerator instead of the brake- in 35 of the cases.
Some NHTSA officials want the agency and all car makers to look more closely at pedal design to see if changes could reduce pedal misapplication.
Until the Toyota incidents, pedal misapplication had recently drawn little attention - despite the fact many experts consider it the main cause for sudden acceleration reports.
A previous study by the NHTSA into reports of sudden acceleration in Audis in 1989 found that when drivers are startled, they have a propensity to hit the wrong pedal.
That study also found that pedal layout - such as placing them too close - and the feel of the pedals could influence the number of complaints. Older and shorter drivers, as well as those with poor leg strength, were found to be more susceptible to the problem. Another factor was a driver's familiarity with the vehicle.
Following that report, Audi and other car companies installed systems that required drivers to depress the brake before shifting an automatic car into gear [or depress the clutch before starting a manual transmission model - ed] and unintended acceleration complaints across the industry declined by 60%.
At its research facilities in Japan, Toyota is using a massive driving simulator to try out different pedal configurations and designs, but the company has declined to say how the research may affect pedal placement.
Toyota already has agreed to install a brake override system on all its new vehicles and some existing models that will cut power to the engine if both the brake and accelerator pedal are depressed.