LOS ANGELES -- Toyota Motor Corp., spurred by criticism that previous recalls failed to prompt enough owners to seek fixes, hopes to distribute mailings this week to the 2.3 million owners targeted in a January recall.
Toyota says it will be vigilant in reaching each of the affected customers and hopes to have all repairs done within 90 days.
The goal was outlined today as the automaker detailed its strategy for eliminating the possibility of unintended acceleration in the eight Toyota-brand models that were the focus of a Jan. 21 recall.
One allegation in a lawsuit filed against Toyota last June in Los Angeles over broken steering rods was that Toyota was lax in notifying nearly 1 million owners targeted in an October 2005 recall. By Dec. 31, 2006, fewer than a third of 977,839 recalled vehicles had been inspected and repaired, according to documents from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Plaintiffs claim the defect caused at least four deaths and several injuries.
“When you do these mailings, some customers react and some don't,” said Bob Waltz, vice president of product, quality and service support for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. He said the company won't stop at one mailing.
“We will do multiple mailings,” he said in a conference call today with reporters. “In this campaign we will aim for as high a complete rate as we can. We will aim for 100 percent.”
Toyota has begun shipping repair parts to U.S. dealers and training them how to conduct the fix. The effort involves installing a steel reinforcement bar into the gas pedal's friction device, a mechanism that controls the pedal's return to the idle position after being pushed down. In rare cases, the pedal sticks, leaving the throttle partially open, Toyota said.
The actual repair will take about 30 minutes, and Toyota said it will cover all costs associated with the work. Drivers shouldn't notice any change in the feel of the pedal, the company said.
Last week Toyota suspended deliveries of the eight models in advance of a production shutdown scheduled for this week.
CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., makes the pedal mechanism in the recalled vehicles. It does not make the reinforcement bar that dealers will install, Toyota said during the conference call, without identifying the shim's manufacturer.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales, said existing customers will be serviced first. Vehicles that have not yet been sold and need the repair will be addressed later.
Paul Walser, owner of two Toyota stores in the Minneapolis area, expects a large turnout.
“There is one thing if it is a minor recall,” he said. “But there is risk here, and it has been well-publicized. If I had a Toyota and heard about this, I would go in for the recall.”
Lentz said the issue of the sticky pedals was first brought to the company's attention last October when they got three complaints. He rejected assertions that Toyota was slow to respond or that its quality is slipping.
“Our cornerstone is built on quality, reliability and safety,” he said. “We have always stood by the customer. That's what we're doing in this case. This is embarrassing for us, but it doesn't mean we've lost our edge in quality.”
Lentz and Waltz also denied claims that electronic malfunctions are contributing to the reports of unintended acceleration clouding the automaker, an issue now covered by recalls covering at least 7.7 million vehicles worldwide.
“We've studied the events of unintended acceleration and we're quite clear that it's come down to two different issues,” Lentz said on NBC's “Today Show.”
“One is the entrapment of the mat and the pedal. And we have announced a recall on that late last year. The sticking pedal issue that we've just announced and put a stop on some of our vehicles, we're confident that we have a fix for that. And between those two things, this will be under control.”
Said Waltz: “Our vehicles go through extensive electronics testing. We have never had one of our vehicles fail.
“If the throttle and engine don't match, it goes back into idle. This is not an interim solution. This redesign and fix will last for the life of the vehicle.”
The PR factor
A solemn Lentz apologized to customers in a video on Toyota's Web site: www.youtube.com/user/ToyotaUSA.
He said that some Toyota dealerships would be open 24 hours to fix the recalled vehicles.He said production of the eight recalled models will resume Feb. 8 after a weeklong suspension.
In addition to the 2.3 million vehicles recalled in the United States for pedal fixes, Toyota has recalled nearly 2 million vehicles for the same problem in Europe and China.
The pedal action came in the wake of last fall's recall of 4.3 million U.S. vehicles to fix floor mats that could jam the accelerator pedal and cause unintended acceleration. Last week, that effort was expanded by another 1.1 million vehicles.