Toyota’s competitors use technology that could have prevented the fatal accidents and sudden acceleration experienced by some Toyota vehicle owners. For years, Nissan, BMW, Chrysler and Mercedes have used such a system, known as the “Smart Pedal”, which tells a vehicle’s engine to give the brakes precedence over the accelerator. Toyota will begin to install this system on some of its vehicles produced in 2010. (2/8) Wall Street Journal
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Some of the fatal accidents and sudden-acceleration incidents that have caused Toyota Motor Corp. so much trouble may have been avoided if the auto maker had equipped its cars with a technology many of its rivals have offered for years.
Chrysler Group LLC, BMW AG, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz and most other auto makers have a system built into most of their cars that cuts off a car’s acceleration if the driver is hitting both the gas and brake at the same time.
The computer system—known in the industry as “Smart Pedal” —tells the engine to disregard the accelerator if both the brake and gas pedal are pushed while the vehicle is moving.
U.S. regulators, in response to Toyota’s ongoing recall, have asked auto makers to provide information on their use of a technology that instructs the brake to override the accelerator when the gas and brake pedals are pushed at the same time. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration sent a questionnaire to auto makers last week seeking details on how Smart Pedal is implemented on their vehicles sold in the U.S., according to three people briefed on the matter.
“Chrysler Group began implementing the smart brake in 2003,” a Chrysler spokesman said. “We saw the opportunity to use the system as an additional security measure for the driver. When a disagreement exists between the throttle and the brake, the brake signal causes the engine controller to reduce engine power, allowing the operator to stop the car. Safety is indeed a benefit of the system but efficiency and durability are also important.”
As part of Toyota’s recall of 5.4 million vehicles over the floor mat issue, the auto maker said it would install a brake override system in all of its newly produced cars and trucks by the end of the year.
It is also installing that system on all of the 12 models involved in the floor mat recall as owners bring their vehicles into dealerships to have work done. The dealers will reprogram the on-board computer system so that if the brakes and the gas are pressed simultaneously the brakes will take precedence.
Such a feature may have also helped control those vehicles that reportedly accelerated to high speed. Many of those incidents are believed to have been caused by bulky floor mats that could catch on the gas pedals and pin them down.
That was the problem an off-duty California state trooper had on Aug. 28 when the Lexus ES350 he was driving zoomed to 125 miles per hour on a road near San Diego. A passenger in the car called 911 and said the accelerator was stuck and the driver was hitting the brakes. The call ends when the car crashes. The trooper and three members died.
Toyota also said the brake override system would be standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus product lines starting with the January 2010 production of ES 350 and Camry. It is scheduled to be incorporated into new production of most, but not all models, by the end of 2010.
The on-board electronics system in BMW’s vehicles reduces engine power so the driver can stop while continuing to press the brakes, said product spokesman Tom Plucinsky. The safety feature has been offered on all of its vehicles since the 2005 model year.
Hyundai Motor Co. intends to equip all of its vehicles with the feature by the end of February while Nissan Motor Co. already offers the feature on all of its cars.
General Motors Co. offers brake override on its performance vehicles such as the Corvette ZR1, Camero SS and the four-cylinder Malibu. The auto maker installed the system to ensure its high horsepower vehicles, or vehicles with more torque such as the Malibu, meet the company’s internal braking distance standards.
The auto maker hasn’t implemented the override system on its other vehicles since its brakes are always stronger than its engines.
“That means if you stand on the brake and the accelerator the brake wins all the time,” GM spokesman Alan Adler said.
Ford Motor Co. is employing the technology on its Fiesta subcompact car, which will be introduced in the U.S. later this year. Ford plans to roll the feature out to its other vehicles although a timetable hasn’t been disclosed.
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