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Survey: Dealers cite 'lots of confusion'

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Survey: Dealers cite 'lots of confusion'

James B. Treece

Automotive News -- February 1, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

Toyota dealers are deeply split over whether the automaker has handled the accelerator-pedal problem well, but few think that the problem will hurt Toyota's sales on a medium- or long-term basis.

Three-quarters of Toyota dealers who responded to an Automotive News online survey said they had lost sales because of the delivery halt placed on vehicles subject to the pedal-related recall. And half said they don't have answers to their customers' questions -- adding comments that indicate widespread confusion around the recall and sales freeze.

The unscientific survey last week drew 54 responses, some with anonymous comments. All respondents said they were either dealers or dealership general managers.

More than two-thirds of respondents said sales of half or more of their new-car inventory had been frozen by Toyota's do-not-sell order. Three-quarters of all respondents said they had lost sales as a result.

Uncertainty is bigger deal

But the bigger issue, they said, was uncertainty. Asked about customers' responses to the news, and allowed multiple responses, 32 percent of dealers said customers "understand and accept the situation." But 37 percent said customers were "somewhat upset," and 15 percent said they were "very upset." Half of respondents, the largest single group, said customers "have questions, and I don't have all the answers."

"All of the above," said one anonymous respondent.

"Lots of calls, lots of questions, lots of confusion," said another. Customers "aren't getting a clear answer, and that is frustrating to them."

Wrote another: "Customers don't understand why Toyota is telling them to drive the vehicle until the fix is announced."

Customers aren't the only ones confused. Although 69 percent of respondents said they were satisfied with Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.'s plan to reimburse dealers for loaners given to customers affected by the recall, one respondent wrote, "What plan???"

Another noted that all but three of the dealership's fleet of 22 loaners were grounded by the recall.

Toyota's handling of the problem was rated "excellent" or "very good" by 40 percent of respondents. But 37 percent gave Toyota a "poor" or "fair" grade.

Said one: "Issuing the stop sale implies an immediate risk, when there is apparently none. This will go down as a huge marketing gaff." Another said: "Last weekend [the] customer 800 line was down. I know it's still developing, but there should have been an emergency plan ready."

Many respondents supported Toyota's actions.

"Toyota continues to impress me as a company," wrote one. "Even at a time like this, with all they have going on, they are reaching out daily to express their concern for dealers and our staff."

Said another, "Still the best, and we own several brands."

Another respondent chided General Motors Co. "I am also a GM Dealer and I am very upset at GM offering Toyota Customers $1000 rebate to switch out of a Toyota to a GM auto. With all the quality problems and recall history GM has I think this is a cheap shot and could backfire on them."

Image at risk?

Asked "How much is Toyota's image for quality and reliability at risk?" dealers' views ranged from "Very little" to "A Ton!"

Said one respondent, "As much as ever in the history of the company, this is a cataclysmic quality and reliability moment. The wrong action or worse -- no action -- will have the potential to kill the reputation it has taken decades to build."

Another said: "This is the Big One for Toyota. They need to be proactive (maybe 60-second infomercial types) and have [Toyota Division General Manager Bob] Carter or [Toyota Motor Sales COO Jim] Lentz tell the public the real truth."

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100201/RETAIL03/302019905/1078#ixzz0eIHsRhwY

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