Tired of the flood of negative reports from the government and media, Toyota's U.S. executives are mounting a new and more vigorous defense of the company's tarnished safety record.
Company officials argue Toyota is being punished unfairly for a level of long-term safety performance that is well within industry norms. Last week they cited consumer complaint statistics to defend Toyota's record.
Critics say those figures have limited value for the specific issue of unintended acceleration and divert attention from hundreds of other complaints that have raised questions about Toyota vehicles. Still, Toyota executives and dealers are using the data to fire back at the daily pounding of bad news.
Toyota Division chief Bob Carter said only 13 complaints about sticky accelerators led to its massive recall of 2.3 million vehicles last month and the suspension of sales of eight models.
"That's too many, and it's our responsibility to fix it." Carter said at a news conference at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando.
But, he added, "It's frustrating that it's gotten to this level [of government and media criticism] for 13 instances."
Toyota's defense sidesteps a far larger number of complaints related to unintended acceleration. More than 2,260 incidents of unintended acceleration involving Toyota vehicles have been reported since 1999, according to a safety research group.
About 5.4 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles have been recalled since last fall to correct problems related to potential entrapment of the accelerator by vehicle floor mats.
The company also maintains that the overall number of complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about Toyota vehicles in the past decade is lower than most other carmakers on a per-vehicle-sold basis.