Toyota Announces Fix For Recall Vehicles In U.S.

Toyota said Monday that dealers will receive parts to fix sticky gas pedals later this week, but the millions of customers affected by the large recall may have to wait for repairs. The Japanese automaker said technicians still have to be trained to do the much-needed repairs.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And Im Renee Montagne.

Toyota has announced a plan to fix defective accelerator pedals in many of its cars. The world's largest automaker says it has, quote, an effective and simple solution for Toyota owners, and that the company will work day and night with dealers to fix the problem. Toyota president and CEO Jim Lentz issued a statement this morning, saying nothing is more important to the company than safety.

Mr. JIM LENTZ (President and CEO, Toyota): For 50 years of selling vehicles in the U.S., we've built our reputation on quality, dependability, reliability, but most importantly on trust. And we want to be able to rebuild that trust with our customers by effectively taking care of this issue and working through our dealers to provide a great experience to our customers.

MONTAGNE: That's Toyota President Jim Lentz. NPR's Brian Naylor is following this story and joins us now.

Good morning, Brian.

BRIAN NAYLOR: Good morning, Renee.

MONTAGNE: And what, exactly, is Toyota planning to do to fix this problem?

NAYLOR: Well, Toyota says it has begun shipping to dealers a fix. They say the part involved is a small, metal, reinforcing bar that dealers can install on the gas pedal assembly. And the company says that this will eliminate what it says is the excess friction that has caused the pedals to stick in rare instances.

MONTAGNE: And Toyota thinks that will solve the entire problem of sudden acceleration in its vehicles? Because there's also that question about floor mats holding down the accelerator pedal.

NAYLOR: Right. It's also recalled some cars because of that. Toyota says that they've got the fix, but others aren't so sure. There are some independent auto safety researchers who doubt that the sudden acceleration problem is caused by a sticky accelerator. They say it's more likely to be the fault of electronic components in the car. In addition, the manufacturer of the accelerator, an Indiana company called CTS, said on Friday the problem of sudden acceleration in some Toyotas and Lexuses dates back to 1999, and that's before the company even made the parts for Toyota.

MONTAGNE: OK, so 5 million cars recalled worldwide - that's a huge number. What will it take to address this problem, for Toyota?

NAYLOR: Well, yeah. It's a huge number. It's a huge problem for the company. Toyota says the fix that they're - that they've come up with up is pretty simple, and that some of its dealers - or it's training its dealers right now how to go about fixing the cars, and that some of the dealers will be open, you know, 24 hours a day to repair cars, if need be. So clearly, it's something the dealers and Toyota want to put behind them as quickly as possible.

MONTAGNE: And what about the federal government's role in all of this?

NAYLOR: Well, the government's starting to take a pretty active role in this. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told an interviewer last week that his department urged Toyota to recall the cars in the first place. And members of Congress are starting to weigh in. There will be hearing next week by the House Oversight Committee, and a second one later this month by the House Energy and Commerce Committee. And one of the questions they'll want to have answered, Renee, is where was the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in all of this? NHTSA is supposed to take - is supposed to keep track of auto safety defects. And the question is: Did they miss or downplay this one?

So there's quite a bit at stake here politically for Toyota and for the government.

MONTAGNE: And Brian, what's ahead for the company? How much of a hit has it taken with this?

NAYLOR: Well, we'll know - you know, we'll know, I think, when we start seeing some sales figures for the company, whether or not people have stopped buying Toyotas. Their plants have been shut down for a while. And so the company wants to get those customers back in the showroom. It wants to get its plants operating again. And it's got to get its, you know, its brand and its reputation for quality to - it's got to get that reputation back. It's taken some steps. You know, we heard the announcement this morning. There were ads in Sunday papers yesterday, calling the plant shutdowns the right thing to do. The company's president apologized for calling - causing our customers unease, as he put it.

But you know, they've got a lot of work to do. Consumers Union, which produces Consumer Reports, kind of the Bible for many car buyers, suspended its recommended status for the eight models that have been recalled.

MONTAGNE: Brian, thanks very much. NPR's Brian Naylor.

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