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Despite Recall, Toyota Dealer Sees Loyalty Ahead

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Despite Recall, Toyota Dealer Sees Loyalty Ahead

Business

Despite Recall, Toyota Dealer Sees Loyalty Ahead

Despite Recall, Toyota Dealer Sees Loyalty Ahead

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A comparison of a shortened Toyota gas pedal with one that hasn't been fixed yet. i

For some models, Toyota is teaching technicians at dealerships how to shave down the gas pedal to make it smaller so it won't run the risk of getting stuck on a floor mat. The pedal on the right has been shortened. Chris Arnold/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Chris Arnold/NPR
A comparison of a shortened Toyota gas pedal with one that hasn't been fixed yet.

For some models, Toyota is teaching technicians at dealerships how to shave down the gas pedal to make it smaller so it won't run the risk of getting stuck on a floor mat. The pedal on the right has been shortened.

Chris Arnold/NPR

Mechanics are about to start working long hours fixing gas pedals at Expressway Toyota in Boston.

The dealership has been fielding calls from nervous customers and gearing up for this massive recall.

On Monday, Toyota announced a solution for the problem of sudden acceleration in some of its vehicles. Toyota said it has "developed and rigorously tested" an upgrade for the sticky accelerators on the millions of cars and trucks it has recalled.

In the United States, 2.3 million Toyota cars and trucks have been affected by the problem, including certain models of the 2009-2010 Corollas, Camrys and RAV4s. Toyota said it will shut down production of eight U.S. models this week.

Preparing For 10,000 Repairs

In addition to a new showroom, there's a big repair shop at Expressway Toyota.

"We think we're going to have an 8-to-midnight shift," says Robert Boch Jr., who owns this dealership with his brother. They estimate they have about 10,000 customers with cars that will need to have the gas pedals upgraded.

And they can't sell 60 percent of the new cars on their lot because last week, Toyota ordered dealers to stop selling any cars that need the upgrade.

Robert's brother Richard says he was "almost devastated" by how many cars are involved.

"We just built a brand new facility. We put our blood, sweat and tears in it, and we're worried about what's going to come of this," Richard Boch says. "We don't pay cash for our cars. We have to finance them, and we have mortgages on our buildings. So in order to pay that off, we have to sell vehicles."

Richard Boch Jr. of Expressway Toyota in Boston

Richard Boch Jr., a co-owner of Expressway Toyota in Boston, holds up the problem pedal in front of a Toyota Camry. Dealers are being sent parts that will allow them to install a metal plate, or "shim," inside the pedal that Toyota says will fix the problem. Chris Arnold/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Chris Arnold/NPR

The brothers were relieved Monday morning when Toyota announced that it had a fix for the problem.

"I'm excited about the details that we got today because it seems to be an effective and simple fix to the problem," says Robert Boch. "So that is good news. And now we're going to be able to move forward and fix the cars."

A 30-Minute Fix

He says the fix will involve installing a small metal plate or shim into the pedal assembly in many cars — something a technician should be able to do in just a half-hour. And he expects a simple part like that will be quick to manufacture.

Anxious customers have already been bringing their cars in to get checked out.

"I bought a Camry in 2009, and I love it, but I was very concerned about the news about the accelerator — the pedal," says Maria Bortolotto, a customer whose Camry is on the recall list. "At first I wasn't concerned, but then I heard about all these people who are having accidents, and it's kind of scary — it really is. But I'm very religious — I say my prayers — and I have a St. Christopher medal, so hopefully that will help."

Practical Driving Advice

The dealership is also offering her some practical advice to restore her faith in Toyota. They're telling customers to put their driver-side floor mat in the trunk so the pedal doesn't get caught on it.

The dealership will be shaving down the size of the pedals on some models. And it is telling customers what to do in the unlikely event that the pedal actually does stick: Don't panic. Just put your break on, and then put the car in neutral.

Toyota has had a good reputation for quality for a long time. But some analysts say this incident might show that Toyota has grown too quickly and taken its eye off the ball.

Customer Reactions

So far, dealership owner Robert Boch says most customers have been supportive: "You ask 10 people who own a Toyota — even with this recall, nine of them will say, 'Fix the car. I want it back. I love my Toyota.' "

But that's not the case with every customer.

Marcella Freitas came to the showroom with her mother, Eci. They traded in a 2009 Corolla for a different model that wasn't part of the recall, because they weren't sure the recall would really fix the problem.

"I don't feel safe driving that car," Eci Freitas says.

Nonetheless, it's probably a positive sign for Toyota that even customers like Marcella and Eci Freitas still feel committed to the brand.

"They're very loyal," Robert Boch says. "Toyota's worked very hard to develop that loyalty and maintain that loyalty. They're going to set the standard on a recall now."

Or at least Robert Boch hopes they will. His dealership sold 12 cars over the weekend. He says that was about half his normal business, and it's hard to know just how long sales will be affected by the recall.

"You never know," Robert Boch says. "If we do it right, it will be an opportunity for us to show that we will take care of our customers and build more brand loyalty. But we gotta do it right."

He says his dealership should have parts in stock and be ready to start upgrading gas pedals by Thursday.

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