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Toyota battles S.D. Prius acceleration story

March 15, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Toyota is firing back at a driver who claims his Prius sped out of control near San Diego, calling his story "inconsistent" with the company's investigation.Monday, the auto company staged an elaborate media event to try to show that the Prius acceleration incident in eastern San Diego County could not and should not have happened.

Toyota used Qualcomm Stadium's parking lot Monday to test Prius hybrids, running them up to 90 mph and also slamming on the brakes, and then accelerating again and then hitting the brakes while keeping the gas pedal fully depressed.

In both cases, Eyewitness News reporter Gene Gleeson was in the vehicle with test driver Ted Prappas, and in both cases, the car stopped within 250 feet.

Toyota said that it did the same tests on the Prius driven by James Sikes. Last week, Sikes claimed that his 2008 Prius took off on him while he was driving up Interstate 8 east of El Cajon.

Toyota executives, who used teleprompters to stay on message during the Monday media event, said that their experts and investigators for the National Highway Safety Administration found nothing wrong with Sikes' car.

"While our analysis is not finalized, Toyota believes there are significant inconsistencies between the account of the event of March 8 and the findings of this investigation," said Mike Michels of Toyota.

Toyota engineers say that the back brakes on Sikes' Toyota were still good but the front brakes were down to the metal. Toyota said that even in that condition, the car should have stopped.

The brakes were replaced before Sikes' car was tested. The on-board computer showed that during Sikes' 24-minute run down the freeway, Sikes alternated pushing the brakes and accelerator 250 times.

"During our investigation, we replaced the entire front brakes system. We put new rotors, we put new brake pads, we put new calipers, and we took it out and we duplicated the conditions to overheat the brakes to the point where there was smoke coming out of the wheels," described Bob Waltz of Toyota. "And that car never did not stop."

Toyota stopped well short of calling Sikes a liar and said that tests on his car are continuing, but the company said that its brake override system in his Prius worked every time they tested it.

"Based on the data, the driver did not want the car to stop?" asked one reporter at the event.

"I don't know what the driver was thinking," replied Waltz.

"Was the guy just playing around in the car? Was he not trying to stop?" asked another reporter.

"I don't think I want to comment on what he was doing. I can tell you that the data says that the brakes would stop the vehicle," said Waltz.

Sikes was not available for comment. Monday, his attorney issued a statement saying that Sikes will not make any comments until the federal investigation of this incident is completed.

Toyota wouldn't comment on Sikes' veracity, but they noted that in the history of sudden acceleration incidents, humans are most often at fault.

"No one likes to talk about that, but people do make mistakes in driving," said Michels.

Michels also said that so far, nothing has shown any mysteries in Sikes' Prius.