Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Can Toyota Shift Out of Limbo?

2010 Toyota Prius
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It seems like a case of Deja Vu.

Another Monday press conference in California where Toyota's technical staff will refute a claim about sudden acceleration.

The question is whether this one truly marks the beginning of Toyota getting past the slew of bad news and questions about its vehicles.

Frankly, it should. In reality, it may not.

This is the limbo Toyota is stuck in as long as investigators struggle to find a definitive answer to why some of the company's vehicles suddenly speed up.

The early analysis of the 2008 Prius James Sikes says accelerated uncontrollably shows Federal investigators could not duplicate the same reaction. A summary by NHTSA investigators says, "We have not been able to find anything to explain the incident that Mr. Sikes reported." As part of that probe into the car, the investigators got the car up to speed, and then hit the Prius gas and brake at the same time. Every time, the car slowed down, as it's supposed to. While this is not the final report on Mr. Sikes car, it's a clear indication Federal and Toyota investigators have not found anything in the car to explain why it would suddenly take off.

Was it a hoax? Maybe, maybe not. We'll probably never be able to know for sure. James Sikes is sticking by his story, even as questions mount.

And critics point out that even though investigators could not duplicate Mr. Sikes complaint, that's happened with other cases of unintended acceleration. Former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook says there are other cases where people have said a particular vehicle suddenly sped up, but when investigators looked at the car, they found nothing wrong with it.

This is creating a tough situation for Toyota.

As much as it tries to push its case with facts and test results, it finds itself trying to fend off questions it can't answer. If there was nothing wrong with a particular car or truck, why did the owner say it sped up? If Toyota is too forceful blaming these cases on driver error, it risks coming off tone deaf and insensitive.

A week ago, the company rolled out independent experts to back the company's claims. Mr. Sikes claim of a runaway Prius ran that news off the road. We'll see Toyota's message that its vehicles are safe gets up to speed this week.


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