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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Audi: Electronics in autos getting a bum rap

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Audi: Electronics in autos getting a bum rap

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

The safety scandal engulfing Toyota Motor Corp. has sowed doubts about electronics in vehicles -- but those concerns are misplaced, a top Audi official said today.

"Electronics, when tested rigorously and deployed effectively, don't get in the way of safe driving. They dramatically improve it," said Johan de Nysschen, president of Volkswagen AG's Audi of America unit.

Toyota's big safety recalls have focused the public's attention on the increasing number of electronic systems in cars.

Many of Toyota's critics say a problem with the Japanese automaker's electronic throttle control system may be at the root of the complaints of unintended acceleration of its vehicles.

In a car with electronic throttle control, the driver sends an electronic signal to the throttle by stepping on the gas pedal.

Concerns about the system, also known as drive by wire, persist despite Toyota's insistence that exhaustive and independent tests haven't found a problem.

In its investigations, Toyota has concluded that in some cases, unintended acceleration was caused by mats jamming the gas pedal, and in other cases, pedals had a defective component that could make them stick.

Toyota also is installing a failsafe feature: an electronic brake override system that cuts power to the engine when pressure is detected on the brake. But it denies a broader systemic problem.

Audi also went through a damaging period close to 30 years ago, when claims that its cars could accelerate uncontrollably led to a steep drop in its U.S. sales.

Those accusations were ultimately proven later to have been unfounded, de Nysschen said. U.S. safety regulators say no defect was found in the Audi cars.

Toyota has agreed to pay a record $16.4 million fine to the U.S. Transportation Department in connection with the sticking pedal recall, but the automaker denies concealing defects.

De Nysschen said he couldn't characterize what kind of problem Toyota might have with its vehicles. "All I can say is, they have a huge image problem right now," he said.

It's not easy, he said, to address that. "If you truly believe that you don't have a technical problem -- and if there's no internal data to support it -- it's difficult, just to satisfy public opinion, to walk out and say, 'We have a problem.' "

Audi introduced electronic throttle control almost a decade before Toyota, and in recent years, it has added a brake override feature.

"We would totally support this technology as a national standard," de Nysschen told reporters at an Automotive Press Association lunch in Detroit.

Many auto experts expect regulators to mandate a brake override system, just as lawmakers required tire pressure-monitoring after a surge of rollovers of Ford Motor Co. SUVs with Firestone tires at the start of the decade.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100419/AUTO01/4190414/1148/auto01/Audi--Electronics-in-autos-getting-a-bum-rap#ixzz0ldzvyDas

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