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Toyota Report At Odds With Runaway Prius Claim

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Toyota is fighting back against a California man's claim that his Prius accelerated out of control even as he jammed on the brakes. The incident happened this week on a freeway outside San Diego and got worldwide attention. Today, Toyota cast doubt on the man's story, as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports.

CARRIE KAHN: At a news conference in San Diego, Toyota's top executives said their investigators went over James Sikes's 2008 Prius thoroughly and couldn't find anything wrong with it. The company says the car's brake override system worked perfectly.

Toyota vice president Bob Waltz says there is no explanation for Sikes's claim that he couldn't get the accelerator pedal to disengage.

Mr. BOB WALTZ (Vice President, Toyota): Even if it would've been stuck to the floor, for whatever reason, by applying the brakes, it would've stopped the vehicle because it would shut down the motor.

KAHN: Toyota spokesman Mike Michels stopped short of calling Sikes a liar.

Mr. MIKE MICHELS (Spokesman, Toyota): We really have no comment on Mr. Sikes' story. Our job is to determine the facts. This is what our examination determined, and I think we'll leave that for others to explore.

KAHN: Toyota's tests show that the accelerator was fully depressed and that Sikes lightly hit the brakes more than 250 times during his 24-minute ride last Monday.

Also today, federal investigators released a statement saying they, too, were unable to duplicate the problem that allegedly caused Sikes's Prius to speed out of control. Calls to Sikes' attorney were not returned.

But the 61-year-old San Diego resident has said he sticks by his story. He was driving down a mountain road and his car sped out of control. After unsuccessfully trying to stop the vehicle, he called police.

Unidentified Woman: Hello, this is 911. Do you have an emergency?

Mr. JAMES SIKES: My car can't slow down.

Unidentified Woman: You can't slow it down?

Mr. SIKES: No.

KAHN: The highway patrol officer who came to Sikes's rescue says the Prius's brake lights were on, and he could smell the brakes burning. The car finally came to a stop after the highway officer told Sikes to use both the foot and emergency brakes at the same time.

Toyota officials say their problems have turned into a media frenzy, but it hasn't hurt car sales, says Karl Brauer, editor of Edmunds.com.

Mr. KARL BRAUER (Editor, Edmunds.com): Plenty of people out there have never thought that these cars were as unsafe or dangerous or Toyota was as nefarious as has been suggested for the last several months now.

KAHN: Both Toyota and federal officials say they haven't completed their investigation, and federal highway safety officials say they may never have a definitive answer about what happened on that San Diego freeway. Carrie Kahn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.