Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tin whiskers and Senator Grassley's letter to NHTSA--a retrospective look

Yes, worse than NHTSA thought!

LA Times on Senator Grassley's 2012 letter to NHTSA

Senator Grassley's letter to NHTSA

WASHINGTON — A U.S. senator has raised concerns about a government investigation of sudden unintended acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles, saying the probe might have erroneously ruled out the company's electronic throttle control system as a cause.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) said whistle-blowers recently have provided his office with information suggesting that the investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, with the help of NASA engineers, "may have been too narrow."
In a letter sent Thursday to NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, Grassley asked for detailed information about the investigation and whether vehicles were tested for the presence of an electronic phenomenon known as "tin whiskers" that could have been the cause of unintended acceleration.
"This is a serious issue," Grassley wrote. He noted that NASA engineers said just because they did not find proof that Toyota Motor Corp.'s electronic throttle control system caused the reports of unintended acceleration "does not mean it could not occur."

Since then, Dr. Henning Leidecker, the top tin whiskers expert at NASA, has explained on camera in an interview with Israel's Channel 2 Ulpan Shishi primetime news magazine that vehicle misbehavior is definitely associated with tin whiskers in some cases. Toyota knew Dr. Leidecker's findings at the time Senator Grassley sent his letter.

Toyota's denial (quoted in the LA Times article) is pretty typical.
"There is no problem with the electronic throttle control systems in Toyota vehicles — and all the scientific evidence confirms it," the company said in a statement.
I wonder if in retrospect one could understand this statement as wire fraud. Obviously, I'm not a prosecutor, but I later learned that Toyota subsequently ceased making the claim that tin whiskers are not assocated with sudden acceleration. Halloooo SD NY, you have any prosecutors over there who can say if it was wire fraud?