WASHINGTON -Toyota, dogged by millions of recalls and claims that it still has not fixed its safety problems, took its strongest step yet Monday to silence critics who blame faulty electronics for runaway cars and trucks.
The automaker has been steadfast in saying the problem is strictly mechanical. Monday, it assembled a group of experts to refute studies by Illinois professor David W. Gilbert, who revved Toyota engines by short-circuiting the wiring. Toyota's experts say Gilbert shaved away insulation on wiring and connected wires that would not normally touch each other, conditions they assert would never happen on the road.
"There isn't a ghost issue out there," said Kristen Tabar, an electronics general manager with Toyota's technical center, at the company's North American headquarters in California.
The work of Gilbert, an automotive technology professor at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, has been the basis of doubts about Toyota's mechanical fixes, which address gas pedal parts and floor mats that can cause the accelerator to become stuck in the depressed position.
Toyota dealers have fixed more than 1 million vehicles, but more than 60 owners have complained that the problem persists despite repairs.
Gilbert told a congressional hearing Feb. 23 that he re-created sudden acceleration in a Toyota Tundra by short-circuiting the electronics behind the gas pedal - without triggering trouble codes in the truck's computer. Those codes trigger a fail-safe mode that allows the brake to override the gas.
But Monday, Chris Gerdes, director of Stanford University's Center for Automotive Research, and consulting firm Exponent Inc. rejected those findings, saying Gilbert's work "could result in misguided policy and unwarranted fear."
To prove their point, Toyota officials revved the engines of cars made by competitors, including a Subaru Forester and a Ford Fusion, by connecting a circuit rigged up to the wiring of the gas pedals.
At least one outside expert said that even if Toyota's criticisms are accurate, Gilbert's work shows the systems that allow brakes to override stuck gas pedals can be compromised.
Gilbert did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Toyota supports other research programs at Stanford's engineering school and is an affiliate of the Center for Automotive Research.