Auto/Economy
3:00 pm
Sun January 9, 2011

Toyota invests $50-million in new safety research center in Ann Arbor

 Toyota Motor Corporation has launched a new $50-million dollar safety research center in Ann Arbor, as the company seeks to recover from last year’s massive recalls of millions of cars. 


The money will pay for research on ways to reduce driver distraction, and better protect the most vulnerable passengers including children.  Chuck Gulash is senior executive engineer at Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor. 


"The announcement is really keeping with the commitment that our President, Akio Toyoda, made to Congress and the American public last year to take the leadership role in developing advanced safety technologies," says Gulash.


Toyoda was called before Congress to testify about recalls of millions of Toyota vehicles for claims of unintended acceleration, caused by floor mats getting stuck against gas pedals.    A few Toyota vehicles also experienced problems with "sticky" gas pedals that would not become fully disengaged when the driver took his foot off the pedal. 


During federal investigations, an internal Toyota memo came to light in which an executive bragged about saving the company $100-million dollars by delaying and reducing the scope of recalls.


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration levied the largest fines in automative history for the delays.  But the administration's early tests also suggest that many of the claims of unintended acceleration were actually caused when drivers mistakenly hit the gas pedal instead of the brake.


Gulash says the new safety center will focus on much more than how crashworthy a car is.  He says research needs to focus on the whole picture – drivers and how they interact with cars and the infrastructure. 


The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute will be one of Toyota’s initial partners for the new venture. 


Because most of the money will be given to research partners for specific projects, Toyota does not expect to hire any additional staff for the center.