ARI SHAPIRO, Host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Ari Shapiro.
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Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt.
FRANK LANGFITT: For many years, Toyota was synonymous with quality. The cars developed such a loyalty with owners that Toyotas practically sold themselves. Jeremy Anwyl runs Edmunds.com, the car consumer Web site.
JEREMY ANWYL: Toyota for many people was sort of the epitome of durability and reliability. And in many cases people bought Toyotas because they didn't want to think about their vehicle. It just worked.
LANGFITT: But recently, Consumer Reports, a bible for car buyers, has found problems. David Champion runs the magazine's car testing division. He says two years ago Consumer Reports took a look at the Toyota Tundra four-wheel drive and the Lexus GS all-wheel drive. The magazine wasn't impressed.
DAVID CHAMPION: Both of those vehicles were below average, and it's the first time we've seen Toyota products to actually be below average.
LANGFITT: As you've watched Toyota in recent years, what do you think is behind that quality slippage?
CHAMPION: You know, Toyota and many of the Japanese manufacturers had a wonderful attention to detail. They looked at every single part extremely closely. They went through every single warranty claim. But in Toyota's case they've expanded so quickly into many, many different marketplaces.
LANGFITT: Like other industry observers, Champion says Toyota's expansion was driven in part by its ambition to replace General Motors as the world's largest automaker.
CHAMPION: You know, there is a certain ego with being number one, and I think they did chase that for a while. And, you know, the more you make, the more different models you make, it's more difficult to keep that attention to detail and that focus on producing reliable vehicles.
LANGFITT: Earlier this week, Toyota halted sales of eight models because of complaints that accelerators were sticking. Champion said it's not clear if the accelerator problem is connected to Toyota's earlier quality issues. Champion added, if Toyota fixes the problem, as it's pledged to, consumers should not be concerned about the safety of the company's vehicles.
CHAMPION: I think this is more of a one-off issue - you know, there's millions of Toyota vehicles out there. The number of vehicles that have experienced this unintentional acceleration is in the hundreds.
LANGFITT: In fact, Toyota did not actually build the accelerators associated with the safety problem. An Indiana-based firm named CTS did. Automakers like Toyota draw most of their parts from suppliers. The company also uses accelerators from a Japanese company named Denzo. Dealers say Toyota told them Denzo accelerators are fine. Rose Byad(ph) is vice president at Darcars, which has four Toyota dealerships in the Washington area. She says some of her employees spent part of yesterday under dashboards, checking the make of accelerators.
ROSE BYAD: It's stamped on the pedal. We have to crawl, so to speak, underneath to look at the accelerator. Actually, I even looked at a vehicle today. We were able to do that while the customer waits.
LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Washington.
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