NASA engineers found no electronic flaws in Toyota vehicles capable of producing the large throttle openings required to create dangerous high speed unintended acceleration incidents.
"We enlisted the best and brightest engineers to study Toyota's electronics systems and the verdict is in. There is no electronic based cause for unintended high speed accelerations in Toyota's vehicles," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
NHTSA?s review of vehicles shows the problem to be more a matter of "pedal misapplication" by the driver in many cases. They said they didn?t find any indication that the brake couldn't overcome any unintended acceleration.
?Toyota welcomes the findings of NASA and NHTSA regarding our electronic throttle control system and we appreciate the thoroughness of their review,? Toyota said in a statement. ?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.?
The findings represent a major victory for Toyota, which has recalled about 8.5 million vehicles worldwide to repair or replace accelerator pedals or improperly placed floor mats. The NASA team, which included experts in fields such as electromoagnetic interference, agreed that any problems likely are limited to the mechanical issues Toyota has addressed.
Worries tied to unintended acceleration, as well as a spate of other quality-related recalls contributed to Toyota?s share of the U.S. new vehicle falling to 15.3% last year from 17% in 2009.
Toyota also is introducing brake override technology in all new models which ensure that drivers could bring any vehicle to a quick stop even if there is an unintended surge of acceleration.
The company had not yet released a comment. But David Champion, head of Consumer Reports auto testing lab, said it is good news for Toyota and the entire industry.
?All manufacturers use electronic throttles so if this study didn?t find a problem with Toyota?s throttle controls then the other automakers have to be breathing a sigh of relief,? Champion said.
NASA engineers analyzed more than 280,000 lines of software code for potential flaws at the agency?s Goddard space flight center in Maryland. They also examined hardware and tested mechanical components.
While no electronic cause was found NHTSA is considering proposing rules this year to require brake override systems, to standardize operation of keyless ignition systems and to require the installation of event data recorders in all passenger vehicles.
Craig Hoff, professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, said reproducing electronic malfunctions in a laboratory that occur in the real world is very difficult.
?I am not surprised,? Hoff said. ?It doesn?t mean that it?s not there, and it doesn?t mean that it?s not happening randomly, it is just hard to prove.?
A National Academy of Sciences review into the whole U.S. fleet designed to determine if electronics could cause problems continues.
The study results come on a day when Toyota reported a 39% decline in its third fiscal quarter profits, but raised its forecast for profits for the full fiscal year which ends March 31.
The Japanese automaker earned $1.1 billion for the three months ended Dec. 31, down from about $1.53 billion a year earlier.