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March 15, 2010

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Doubts cast on Prius owner's event reporting

INVESTIGATORS with Toyota Motor Corp and the United States government were unable to make a Toyota Prius speed out of control as its owner said it did on a California freeway, according to a draft memorandum obtained on Saturday by The Associated Press that casts doubt on the driver's story.

James Sikes, 61, called police last Monday to report losing control of his Prius as the hybrid reached speeds of 151 kilometers per hour. A California Highway Patrol officer helped Sikes bring the vehicle to a safe stop on Interstate 8 near San Diego.

During two hours of test drives of Sikes' car last Thursday, technicians with Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration failed to duplicate the same experience that Sikes described, according to the memo prepared for the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

"Every time the technician placed the gas pedal to the floor and the brake pedal to the floor the engine shut off and the car immediately started to slow down," the memo said.

The report says that, according to Toyota's "residential Hybrid expert," the Prius is designed to shut down if the brakes are applied while the gas pedal is pressed to the floor. If it doesn't, the engine would "completely seize."

"In this case, knowing that we are able to push the car around the shop, 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," the memo said.

The findings raise questions about "the credibility of Mr Sikes' reporting of events," said Kurt Bardella, a spokesman for Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the committee.

Sikes could not be reached to comment. However, his wife, Patty Sikes, said he stands by his story.


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