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Based on study of nonlinearities of vehicle longitudinal model and its simplification, a model reference adaptive controller for throttle control is designed using a simplified nonlinear vehicle model and its stability in the presence of unmodeled dynamics is proved using Lyapunov stability theory in this paper. Since the simplified nonlinear model is time invariant when the gear is fixed and it meets the requirement of time invariance for designing adaptive control system, the controller based on the simplified nonlinear model has better performance of convergence than that based on the simplified linear model. Simulation results on a full order nonlinear vehicle longitudinal model show that the adaptive controller based on simplified nonlinear model can reject disturbances that arise from parameter errors and is robust to unmodeled dynamics. Furthermore it has better performance of convergence than controller based on the simplified linear model.