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Sheila Widnall named to Toyota North American Quality Advisory Panel

Institute Professor will advise Japanese carmaker as it seeks to address quality and safety issues.
Institute Professor Sheila Widnall
Institute Professor Sheila Widnall

Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater announced on Thursday that MIT Institute Professor Sheila Widnall has been named to a seven-member independent panel that will advise Toyota North America Inc. as the company works to set a new, higher standard for vehicle safety and reliability.

Widnall ’60, SM ’61, ScD ’64, a former Secretary of the U.S. Air Force, joins Secretary Slater and five other safety and quality experts who will serve on Toyota’s independent North American Quality Advisory Panel, which has already begun on-site reviews of the company’s key operating facilities, plants and technical centers around the U.S. As one of its first actions, the panel will evaluate the electronic throttle control system (ETCS-i) installed in Toyota and Lexus vehicles, and these findings will be made public.

"This underscores what a tremendous benefit MIT offers to industry and government — that we are a reservoir of people who can step into these high-level activities and offer unique expertise, observation, evaluation and advice," Widnall said.

Widnall, who joined the MIT faculty in 1964, was named an Institute Professor — MIT’s highest faculty honor — in 1998. She served as MIT’s associate provost from 1992-1993.

Toyota’s reputation has been sorely tested over the last several months amid a string of well-publicized recalls involving millions of the company’s vehicles due to problems involving sticking accelerator pedals and brake systems. Earlier this month, the Japanese carmaker said it would pay a $16.4 million civil fine to the U.S. government to settle claims — without admitting wrongdoing — that it hid potentially dangerous defects from federal regulators.

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