By Hans Greimel, Crain News Service
Tokyo -- Toyota Motor Corp. has developed a dealer remedy to fix faulty accelerator pedals in 2.3 million recalled vehicles and will start repairs this week.
The Japanese car maker is already shipping the parts to US dealers and training them on how to conduct the fix. The remedy involves reinforcing the pedal assembly to eliminate the excess friction that causes pedals to stick, Toyota Motor Sales USA said in a statement today (1 Feb).
â€œWe deeply regret the concern that our recalls have caused for our customers and we are doing everything we can -- as fast as we can -- to make things right,â€ Toyota Motor Sales president Jim Lentz said in the statement.
Toyota's fix 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. â€œIn rare cases, the pedal sticks, leaving the throttle partially open,â€ 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.
The announcement covers a fix for 2.3 million vehicles Toyota Division recalled on 21 Jan. Last week Toyota suspended deliveries of the models in advance of a production shutdown scheduled for this week at its plants.
A solemn Lentz apologized to customers in a video on Toyota's Web site.
He said that some Toyota dealerships would be open 24 hours to fix the recalled vehicles.
â€œToyota has always prided itself on building high quality, durable products that customers can depend on,â€ said Mr. Lentz, dressed in a dark suit and sitting before a brown backdrop. â€œI know that we have let you down.â€
â€œWe are redoubling our efforts to make sure that this does not happen again,â€ he said.
Toyota had also scheduled a conference call with reporters at 11 a.m. EST today (1 Feb) to discuss the recall and the dealer remedy for the pedal mechanism, made by supplier CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Indiana.
Today's announcements signal that Toyota is going on the offensive after the auto maker's reputation for quality and reliability took a beating in the wake of a decision last week to suspend deliveries and production of the eight recalled models.
In addition to the 2.3 million vehicles recalled in the US for pedal fixes, Toyota has recalled nearly 2 million vehicles for the same problem in Europe and China.
On Saturday, PSA Peugeot Citroen said it would recall 100 000 Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 models made at a factory in the Czech Republic where the French group and Toyota jointly make cars.
The action to remedy the pedal problem came in the wake of last fall's recall of 4.3 million vehicles to fix floor mats that could jam the accelerator pedal and cause unintended acceleration. Last week, that recall was expanded by another 1.1 million vehicles.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized for the floor mat recall in October. Last week, he apologized again on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
â€œWe're extremely sorry to have made customers uneasy,â€ Mr. Toyoda told Japan's public broadcaster NHK. â€œWe plan to establish the facts and give an explanation that will restore confidence.â€
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) engineers have reviewed Toyota's proposal for preventing gas pedals in the eight models from sticking and have raised no objections, said a US official. NHTSA regulators are not required to approve the fix but can reject the approach if they consider it inadequate.
In addition to developing a dealer fix for cars already on the road, Toyota has been working on a new part that can go into cars on the assembly line. CTS said last Thursday it is shipping replacement parts to Toyota's assembly plants in North America.
Problems related to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles are suspected of causing crashes that led to 19 fatalities over the past decade, government officials have said.
US Transportation secretary Ray LaHood said last week that NHTSA, which is part of his agency, closely reviewed Toyota's proposed fix for the sticky pedals.
Mr. LaHood said he was satisfied with Toyota's overall response to the acceleration issue, which has prompted rivals--including government-owned General Motors Co.--to lure Toyota customers to their brands with incentives.
Sources briefed on Toyota's US sales plans told Reuters on Friday the suspension of deliveries would continue until at least mid-February.
A resumption assumes a smooth and swift rollout of a remedy to fix faulty accelerators in vehicles already sold or for sale at dealerships, the sources said.
Toyota announces third-quarter financial results on 4 Feb. Analysts estimate the sales halt could cost Toyota at least $550 million (Euro 395 million) in operating profit per month.
Separate congressional committees have scheduled February hearings into the matter. Mr. LaHood, NHTSA administrator David Strickland and Toyota North American president Yoshimi Inaba are expected to testify.
This report appeared in Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of the European Rubber Journal.
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Toyota says dealers to begin repairing faulty pedals this week from Automotive News (a Crain publication)