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Toyota kept owners at risk with recall delays

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Toyota kept owners at risk with recall delays

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

Toyota, once celebrated for the safety and high quality of its products, now faces an image crisis similar to the Firestone/Ford Explorer debacle of a decade ago. Tragically, Toyota could have avoided the predicament with a more direct response that showed genuine concern for owners.

When Toyota halted deliveries of eight models --— including its top-selling Camry -- and stopped production at five North American assembly plants, it was an admission that the problem was out of control.

It was the latest development in a series of problems with unintended acceleration that dates back to at least 2007.

Last month Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles to correct sticking accelerator pedals. Some of those also were among the 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles recalled last fall and the 55,000 vehicles recalled in 2007 to replace floor mats that Toyota said could jam the accelerator.

Toyota's inability to correctly diagnose and fix the unintended-acceleration problems has led some critics to suggest that the real issue actually may be in the vehicles' electronics, which Toyota vehemently denies.

It behooves Toyota to quickly implement a design change that finally solves the problem so that the supplier can produce the new parts and ship them to the factories and dealerships for retrofitting on unsold models.

Toyota also must do whatever it takes to get enough parts delivered to dealerships for installation on the recalled vehicles already on the road.

Unfortunately for Toyota, last week's dramatic actions will not stop the deterioration of its reputation. Nor are they likely to head off critics who say Toyota's rapid growth and huge global footprint have inhibited its ability to design and produce safe, high-quality vehicles.

The damage is compounded because the lingering unintended-acceleration problems follow big recalls to replace faulty steering rods and the flap over engine sludge in some Toyota vehicles, including the Camry.

Regrettably, Toyota's sluggish response has hurt more than just the automaker. Millions of loyal Toyota owners could be in harm's way until their vehicles are repaired. Toyota and Lexus dealers also are suffering from lost sales.

Toyota faces an uphill fight to rebuild its reputation for quality, safety and openness. To make things right, the company must fix its once-vaunted quality system along with the accelerator pedals.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/article/20100201/OEM01/302019943/1128#ixzz0eIIrZxJF

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