AP Source: Toyota to cast doubt on Prius case

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DETROIT — Toyota plans to cast doubt Monday on a California man’s claim that his Prius sped out of control last week on the freeway, a person briefed on the matter told The Associated Press.

DETROIT — Toyota plans to cast doubt Monday on a California man’s claim that his Prius sped out of control last week on the freeway, a person briefed on the matter told The Associated Press. The automaker will show that a backup safety system worked in James Sikes’ car and that damage to the brakes didn’t square with his story, according to the person, who asked not to be identified because the information had not been released. The company scheduled an afternoon news conference in San Diego, not far from where Sikes says his car suddenly accelerated March 8. The person would not say what else will be discussed. Earlier in the day, federal regulators said they were reviewing data from the gas-electric hybrid but so far had not found anything to explain the out-of-control acceleration reported by Sikes. "We would caution people that our work continues and that we may never know exactly what happened with this car," the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a statement. Inspectors said they tried to duplicate the acceleration during a two-hour test drive but could not. Toyota spokesman John Hanson would not comment on what the company would say at the news conference, but said Toyota and investigators for NHTSA were able to pull data off the Prius’ control computer. "We have been able to download a fair amount of information that will help us," Hanson said, declining to give specifics. The data, he said, should show whether the brake and gas pedals were depressed at the same time. Sikes has said the car sped up to 94 mph (150 kph) on a freeway near San Diego. He said he jammed on the brakes trying to stop it. Sikes called an emergency phone number and a highway patrol officer helped bring the vehicle to a safe stop. Though no one was injured, the episode quickly becoming a high-profile headache for Toyota, which like NHTSA sent in an engineering team to investigate. John Gomez, an attorney for Sikes, said the failure to recreate the incident was insignificant and not surprising. "They have never been able to replicate an incident of sudden acceleration. Mr. Sikes never had a problem in the three years he owned this vehicle," he said Sunday. But Rep. Darrell Issa, a California Republican, suggested the failure to duplicate the stuck accelerator, and the presence of a backup system in the car, raised questions about Sikes’ story. "It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but let’s understand, it doesn’t mean it did happen," Issa said on CBS’ "The Early Show." NHTSA is looking into claims by more than 60 Toyota owners that their vehicles had accelerated unexpectedly even after they were supposedly fixed. Regulators said in a statement that Sikes’ Prius was equipped with a backup safety device that reduces power to the wheels when the brakes and gas are pressed at the same time. "The system on Mr. Sikes’ Prius worked during our engineers’ test drive," the statement said. While investigators from Toyota and NHTSA reviewed the Prius during the same two days, a Transportation Department official said their investigations are separate. "It does not appear to be feasibly possible, both electronically and mechanically that his gas pedal was stuck to the floor and he was slamming on the brake at the same time," said a memo prepared for Congress that cited a Toyota official. Toyota has recalled millions of cars because floor mats can snag gas pedals or accelerators can stick. Sikes’ car was covered by the floor mat recall but not the one for sticky accelerators. He later told reporters that he tried to pull on the gas pedal during his harrowing ride, but it didn’t "move at all." ___ Spagat reported from San Diego. Associated Press Writer Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report. Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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