Local Toyota dealers respond to recallsWritten by Duane Ramsey | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Local Toyota dealers are responding to the recent recalls made by Toyota, according to officials at Jim White Toyota in Toledo and Rouen Toyota in Maumee, while the Japanese automaker faces federal hearings and investigations.
“Our dealers are making extraordinary efforts to complete our recalls as quickly and conveniently as possible. Some dealers are staying open 24-7 and they are repairing vehicles at a rate of 50,000 a day. To date, we have repaired close to a million vehicles,” James Lentz, president and CEO of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc. stated in his testimony to the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce Feb. 23.
Jim White Toyota has repaired more than 500 vehicles, averaging 20 to 30 per day depending on the repairs required, according to Dave Wittenmyer, general manager of the dealership owned by the White family.
Wittenmyer said they are putting in eight to 10 additional hours of expanded service time during the week with nine mechanics working on recalls that represent 60 percent of the workload. They also have six mechanics working on Saturday instead of the usual two to handle the extra work.
“We’re taking a proactive approach and having our salespeople contact our Prius owners about that recall before they are notified by mail. Our customers have been very supportive and understanding,” Wittenmyer said.
He said they are installing the shim plate on accelerator pedal units and trimming the bottom of the pedal to avoid the problem of it becoming entrapped with the floor mats.
“Most of the problems are caused when customers put additional carpeting or rubber floor mats on top of the ones installed in the vehicles,” Wittenmyer said.
They are also working on the second phase of reprogramming computers for the Avalon and Camry recalls.
Toyota now has a redundancy safety system. If the accelerator gets hung up, the driver hits the brakes and it slows the vehicle down, he said. Toyota officials described it as an override for the anti-lock brake systems.
Wittenmyer said their sales are down in January and February after one of the best Decembers ever, citing the poor economic times in Northwest Ohio as much as the recall issues.
“We’re going to take a little beating with this, but most of our customers have remained loyal,” Wittenmyer said.
Mike Rouen, owner and general manager of Rouen Toyota, traveled to Washington to attend the congressional hearings. He was among 100 Toyota dealers from across the country who wanted to tell their side of the story.
“We talked to our representatives about how the dealers are affected by it. Marcy Kaptur’s office was very receptive, listened to us and even got me a seat at the hearings,” Rouen said.
“The committee asked some difficult questions of Akio Toyoda. I think he understood and answered all their questions honestly and sincerely despite the language differences,” he said.
Rouen is handling 500 to 600 recalls as Toyota has been providing the parts and their customers are very understanding and remaining loyal, according to Jennifer Phillips, fixed operations manager at Rouen.
Both Rouen and Wittenmyer reported that their dealerships have not seen one problem with unintended acceleration on a Toyota vehicle.
Lentz told the committee that “we have rigorously tested our solutions and are confident that with these repairs, Toyota vehicles will be among the safest on the road today. The solutions we have developed are both effective and durable” but later admitted that they may not know all the causes of the accelerator pedal issue.
Toyota engineers identified two specific mechanical causes of unintended acceleration covered by the recalls and the company is currently addressing those causes through the open recalls, according to Lentz.
One cause involved floor mats, that when loose or improperly fitted entrapped the accelerator pedal. The other concerns accelerator pedals that can grow “sticky with wear,” Lentz told the committee.
Congressional, federal and state investigators are reviewing Toyota’s recall of 8.5 million vehicles since last fall due to safety problems with anti-lock brakes, accelerator pedals and floor mats.
Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motors Corporation, testified before the congressional Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Feb. 24 in Washington, D.C. The 53-year old grandson of the company’s founder became president of the company in June 2009.
In his testimony, Toyoda blamed the company’s rapidly expanding business as the primary cause for the recall issues it faces today.
“I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls and have personally placed the highest priority on improving quality over quantity,” Toyoda said during his testimony.
Toyoda announced he will personally lead a top-to-bottom review of the company’s operations with the support of new chief quality officers for North America and its other principal regions. They will ask independent outside experts to evaluate the findings to make sure Toyota meets or exceeds industry standards.
“When recall decisions are made, a step will be added in the process to ensure that management will make a responsible decision from the perspective of customer safety first,” Toyoda said. “We will form a quality advisory group composed of respected outside experts from around the world to ensure that we do not make any misguided decisions.”
As a member of the House committee, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur told Toyoda that she “felt his testimony was inadequate and he didn’t express enough remorse for people who lost their lives in Toyotas, such as a Michigan woman named Guadalupe Alberto.”
Kaptur said Toyoda appeared shaken by what she said and expressed his remorse for the loss of lives.
She quoted the “Toyota Way” with No. 5 listed as “Commitment to Quality.” How did Toyota lose its way? she asked.
Kaptur addressed Toyota’s alleged attempts to hire people inside the U.S. government to gain influence and trying to include other problems under the acceleration issues.
She also questioned Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood about recall and safety issues during his testimony at the hearings on Feb.24.
The Japanese automaker reported that federal prosecutors launched a criminal investigation into the company’s safety problems and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is probing what the automaker reported to investigators.
Toyota received the SEC request Feb. 19 following a request from the grand jury from the Southern District of New York Feb. 8.
Toyota officials told the Associated Press that the SEC is seeking documents related to unintended acceleration as well as the company’s disclosure policies and practices.
A spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York said it does not confirm or deny its investigations as a matter of policy, according to AP.
The government could be examining possible violations of product safety laws by Toyota or the company making false statements to federal agencies about the acceleration or braking problems that prompted the recalls, AP reported.
Rep. Bart Stupak, (D-Mich), who ran the Feb. 23 hearing, said documents and interviews demonstrate that the company relied on flawed engineering reports to reassure the public that it had found the answer to the problems.
Stupak told AP that a review of consumer complaints showed company personnel identified sticking pedals or floor mats as the cause of only 16 percent of the unintended acceleration reports.
“There is nothing wrong with the design of the accelerator system but we decided to add the override brake system that depends on electronics on all models to be built in the U.S. I don’t mean to say that it will solve all of the problems,” said Yoshimi Inaba, president and CEO of Toyota Motors North America at the hearing.
“We are expanding our network of technical offices in the U.S. so we can gather information faster and respond more aggressively to incident reports,” Lentz told the committee.
The automaker operates the Toyota Technical Center located in Saline, Mich. just south of Ann Arbor. The specific parts involved in the recall were engineered by Toyota in Japan and not in the U.S., according to Bruce Brownlee, senior executive administrator of the technical center that opened in October 2008.
The Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division is conducting an investigation of certain automotive electronic suppliers. Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc.
In addition to the original recalls, Toyota recently initiated voluntary recalls and manufacturing changes for the anti-lock brakes on the 2010 Prius and Lexus models and power-steering pressure hose on 2010 Camry models.
These additional recalls involve approximately 133,000 Prius vehicles, 14,550 Lexus HS 250s, and 7,300 Camry models, according to the company’s Web site.
Toyota responded to owner concerns about experiencing inconsistent anti-lock brake feeling during slow or steady application of the brakes on rough or slick road surfaces. The company responded to those concerns with a production change for the 2010 Prius.
The recall will allow Toyota dealers to perform the software update in the anti-lock brake systems of 2010 Prius models sold before the production change, according to the company. The software update should only take about 30 minutes to install, depending on workflow at each dealership.
The anti-lock brake system on the Lexus HS 250 shares a similar component design to the Prius, so it has been included on that recall. The software adjustment for the Lexus HS 250 production and dealer modification is being finalized and will be announced shortly, according to the company.
Toyota began sending letters this month to Prius owners included in this recall and will begin sending letters to Lexus owners within the next few weeks to inform them to bring their vehicles into a dealership. Owners will only receive a letter if their vehicle is included in the recall, according to the automaker.
The first and second generation Prius models used a different anti-lock brake system and are not involved in the recall, the company stated on its Web site.
On certain early production 2010 Camry models equipped with the 4-cylinder engine, a power steering hose in the engine compartment may be the incorrect length. If this condition exists, a crimp on that hose may come in contact with the front brake tube.
Approximately 7,300 Camry models in the U.S. are involved in that recall. Toyota began notifying Camry owners by mail in mid-February, according to the company.
Any Toyota dealer will inspect, and if necessary, adjust the space between the brake tube and the power steering pressure hose. The dealership may need to replace the brake tube based on its inspection of the vehicle.
Toyota said it is considering a possible recall of its Corolla compact model, the best-selling car in the world, due to complaints about the power steering on some late- model Corollas.
AP contributed to this report.