Nasa probes Toyota acceleration problem

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Nasa and the National Academy of Sciences are joining the US government's effort to find out what caused the sudden acceleration problems that led to car giant Toyota's massive recalls.

The space agency scientists, with expertise in electronics, will help the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study potential electronic ties to unintended acceleration in Toyotas.

Transportation secretary Ray LaHood said Nasa's knowledge of electronics, computer hardware and software and hazard analysis would ensure a comprehensive review.

In a separate study, the National Academy of Sciences will examine unwanted acceleration and electronic vehicle controls in cars from around the auto industry. The academy is an independent organisation chartered by Congress.

The academy study, expected to take 15 months, will review acceleration problems and recommend how the government can ensure the safety of vehicle electronic control systems.

"We believe their outside expertise, fresh eyes and fresh research perhaps can tell us if electronics have played a role in these accelerations," Mr LaHood said.

Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide, including six million in the US.

Toyota said today it was "confident in our vehicles and in our electronics" and would co-operate with the government review.

"These studies are just the kind of science-based examination we have been calling for. Bringing some sunshine to this subject is bound to separate fact from fiction, which will be good for Toyota, the industry and the motoring public," the company said.

Mr LaHood has told Congress the department will dig deeply into what has caused hundreds of complaints of unwanted acceleration in Toyotas.

Toyota has blamed sticking accelerator pedals and accelerators that can become jammed in floor mats and say other manufacturers have also had reports of cars surging forward.

But consumer groups say electronics could be the culprit and dozens of Toyota owners who had their cars fixed in the recall have complained of more problems with their vehicles surging forward unexpectedly.

Regulators have linked 52 deaths in Toyotas to crashes allegedly caused by accelerator problems.

Reviews of some recent high-profile crashes have failed to find a mechanical or electronic problem.

NHTSA's review of Toyota's electronic throttle control systems is expected to be completed by late summer. The safety agency, with Nasa's help, is looking at electronic systems used in Toyotas and whether they have flaws that would warrant a defect investigation.

Meanwhile Toyota held its first meeting today of a special committee of quality control experts in key overseas regions - including North America.

"I invite you to join me in working with our colleagues worldwide to regain consumer confidence," Toyota president Akio Toyoda said in kicking off the meeting of about 70 executives, workers and representatives from its global operations gathered at headquarters in central Japan.

"Let us pool our wisdom and work hand in hand toward achieving that goal. And let this gathering today be our first step."

In an effort to beef up quality checks, Toyota said it would set up four additional facilities to train employees in quality control - in North America, China, Europe and south-east Asia - modelled after the training centre it already has in Japan.

Toyota said it had also decided to have brake override - a system that allows the brakes to work if they are pressed together with the accelerator - in new models starting this year.