UPDATE 1-Science panel backs US gov't probe of Toyota

Wed Jan 18, 2012 4:45pm GMT

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(Adds panel details, NHTSA investigation)

WASHINGTON Jan 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. government conducted a thorough review and was justified last year in concluding that software systems played no role in unintended acceleration in Toyota (TM.N)(7203.T) vehicles, an independent scientific panel said on Wednesday.

The finding by the National Research Council's Transportation Research Board represents the final piece of the federal investigation into recalls of 8 million Toyota and Lexus cars and trucks in 2009 and 2010.

It is also an important step for the automaker, which is trying to rebuild its reputation with consumers for reliability. Toyota still faces lawsuits over the safety crisis.

Toyota shares were virtually unchanged at $67.39 in late morning New York Stock Exchange trading.

The independent report from academic, industry, scientific and regulatory experts was requested by the Transportation Department as a follow-on to the Toyota investigation by auto safety regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and technology experts at NASA.

NHTSA said in a statement that it was reviewing the panel's findings, which pointed out steep challenges faced by the agency in conducting investigations of sophisticated vehicle electronics without outside help.

(Reporting By John Crawley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

((john.crawley@thomsonreuters.com; 202 898 8300)) Keywords: TOYOTA/PANEL

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