The timing couldn’t be worse. After reporting its first ever annual loss last year, Toyota announced Tuesday that it will suspend US sales and manufacturing of eight Toyota models to fix faulty gas pedals. The unprecedented move comes days after the unveiling of a Toyota recall list of 2.3 million vehicles.
The decision may have serious consequences for Toyota. It lost $7.1 billion last year, and the Tuesday announcement will hamper its ability to return to profitability through increased sales, as well as potentially dent its reputation as a producer of reliable vehicles.
“It’s a humbling experience for them,” says Jeff Bartlett, Deputy Editor Online for Consumer Reports. “For them to stumble is a bit of a blow to their consumer image and their standing in the industry.”
Toyota said it will halt production of eight models at six North American assembly plants for the week of Feb. 1. The models represented 57 percent of Toyota’s 2009 US sales, according to the Wall Street Journal. They also represent some of America’s best-selling models, including the Camry and Corolla.
Which cars have the problem?
The models that will be recalled or subject to a sales suspension include:
• RAV4 (2009-10 models)
• Corolla (2009-10)
• Camry (2007-10)
• Matrix hatchback (2009-10)
• Avalon large sedan (2005-10)
• Highlander crossover (2010)
• Tundra pickup (2007-10)
• Sequoia large SUV (2008-10)
The suspension is due to problems with gas pedal mechanisms that may cause the accelerator to get stuck, triggering sudden acceleration. The problem has been traced to a US parts supplier. The parts from that manufacturer are used in Toyotas sold in the US and Europe. Toyota is considering a recall of 2 million cars in Europe, as well.
Similar sticking accelerator problems have arisen in the past, driving the car company to recall 4.2 million vehicles in November, and another 2.3 million last week. So far, Toyota has been unable to correct the problem.
How to drive if the gas pedal sticks
Mr. Bartlett offers several recommendations for owners of affected vehicles. First, he says, “The key is to be aware of what to look for. We know that this is a progressive problem, one that gets worse over time, so be mindful if your pedal begins to stick.”
Barlett says Consumer Reports has done extensive testing on how to regain control of vehicles experiencing sudden acceleration. Drivers who experience sudden acceleration should put the transmission into neutral, he says. They should not pump the brakes. “If you put it into neutral, you will retain full steering and full braking capability. This will save your life.”
As Toyota works to fix the problem, it must also address the issue of its image. These setbacks will threaten the carmaker’s reputation for quality and safety. Bartlett says Toyota is handling the problem well.
“They seem to be handling this in a Toyota manner, looking at the long-term,” says Bartlett. Consumer Reports does an annual nationwide survey on brand perception, he adds, and Toyota has always led by a very significant margin.
“They did even better this year,” he says, “just months after the acceleration issues came into light [last August]. For Toyota, that’s a promising indicator that if they’re acting with transparency, earnestness, and swiftness, that they may weather this storm as good as can be expected.”
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