The car in the hedge is a Toyota

It hasn’t been a good time for Toyota recently with its brake, accelerator and stability control problems.  Now there’s a new issue to blot the copy book of their premium brand, Lexus.

It affects LS 600h and LS 460 fitted with Variable Gear Ration Steering (VGRS) - approximately 11,500 vehicles worldwide, about 40 in the UK.  Lexus has responded to 10 customer complaints from Japan and will be recalling the vehicles.  The problem itself is quite interesting.  When turned to full lock then straightened up, the steering wheel doesn’t end up in the straight-ahead position.  What it then does to correct the situation is gradually straighten up afterwards.  So the vehicle effectively allows turning in one direction using one ratio and back to straight ahead using a different ratio.

Does this make anyone else uncomfortable?  Remember Volvo’s failed demonstration of their collision avoidance system and Toyota’s recent track record with the brakes and stability software.  Remember too that a motor vehicle provides one of the more hostile environments for electronic control systems.  (The direct injection unit on Saabs often fails at around five years because of the heat and vibration in the engine bay.)  So when the VGRS systems fail eventually, do we know exactly what will happen?  Note, this isn’t the same as variable levels of assistance; if that fails, the driver would just be left with very heavy steering (which feels like when freewheeling a car with its engine off).  VGRS means there is a full disconnect between steering wheel and wheels.

There are two relevant terms used in the IT industry: ‘bleeding edge’ and ‘leading edge’.  Bleeding edge relates to very early adopters of technology – often reaping some benefits over competition but running higher risks.  Leading edge implies using new but tried and tested technology.  And until tried and tested by other people (albeit sharing our road space!) I’ll be avoiding steer-by-wire for a little while.

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