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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

 

Toyota stops sales over sticking accelerator pedals

Toyota to halt sales, shut down factories over sticking accelerator pedals

Sales halted 2009 Matrix compact wagons sit at a Toyota dealership in the south Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File) (David Zalubowski, Associated Press / August 16, 2008)

 

Justin Hyde

McClatchy/Tribune News

January 26, 2010

 

WASHINGTON - — In what was described as the largest such move ever by an automaker in the United States, Toyota Motor Co. said Tuesday that it had halted sales of eight models of its cars and trucks that account for more than half its U.S. sales until it could find a fix for sticking accelerator pedals under a safety recall.

The move, which will cut production for at least a week at seven Toyota plants in North America, comes six days after the Japanese automaker announced the recall of 2.3 million vehicles due to the accelerator problem that it first encountered in 2007.

The models, including its top-selling Camry and Corolla sedans, accounted for 56 percent of Toyota's U.S. sales last month. No imported models are covered by the stop-sale order.

The decision mars a reputation for high quality that Toyota had relied on to become the world's largest automaker and claim 17 percent of the U.S. market.

Between this recall and an earlier one involving floor mats, Toyota has called back 4.8 million vehicles to fix problems that could lead to sudden uncontrolled acceleration. Safety advocates have linked the problems in Toyotas to 19 deaths and more than 2,000 complaints.

While Toyota says the problem is rare and confined to older models, it has not been able to specify under what conditions the pedals might stick. With no remedy for the new problem, Toyota on its Web site, toyota.com, is providing information on how to stop their vehicles if their pedals were stuck, including shifting into neutral and shutting off the engine.

"This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized," said Bob Carter, head of Toyota's U.S. sales arm. "We're making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible."

Toyota's decision to halt the sale of eight of its most popular vehicles in the U.S. is the latest in a string of reversals the automaker has made while facing complaints of sudden and uncontrolled acceleration in its vehicles.

The auto giant was still scrambling to tackle the consequences of Tuesday's announcement, which affects models that accounted for 10 percent of all U.S. auto sales in 2009. While the shutdown of plants is scheduled for only one week, Toyota does not yet have a fix for the flaw and would have to repair all of the vehicles in dealers' lots before it could put them back on sale.

Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said the problem was rare, and that the company was acting from an abundance of caution by halting sales. Lyons said customer complaints and Toyota research show the problem would not crop up suddenly and would likely affect only older models.

"Every indication we have at this point is it's happening gradually over a period of time," Lyons said.

Toyota's move adds another chapter to a growing history of sudden- or unintended-acceleration problems.

In a letter to federal regulators last week, Toyota said consumers first began complaining about sticking accelerator pedals in Tundra pickups in March 2007. After testing a part of the pedal and finding it could swell in humid conditions, Toyota changed the material used in the part in February 2008 but deemed the problem a "drivability issue unrelated to safety."

Then in December 2008, Toyota said it began receiving similar complaints from cars in Europe. It ran a second set of tests in March and found the same part made with the new material could wear over time and cause a pedal to stick. Once again, Toyota made changes to the pedal and did not issue a recall.

Finally, in October, the automaker said it began receiving more reports of sticking accelerator pedals in the United States and Canada, with parts similar to the European models. Toyota said it then decided to do a voluntary recall of all pedals, including from the 2007-08 Tundra investigation.

Safety advocates maintain that Toyota has downplayed signs of widespread problems with unintended acceleration in its vehicles dating back to 2003 and has yet to fully explain evidence suggesting electrical problems with the vehicles. Many of the models use drive-by-wire systems, which control the engine's throttle by a computer link with the pedal rather than a physical connection.

NHTSA investigated the Tundra in 2007 for sudden acceleration but closed the case in September 2008 with no recall after failing to find a mechanical flaw that explained the complaints. Toyota also had argued that many of the complaints were "inspired by publicity," and no flaws had been found in the truck.

Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said production would be halted for one week starting Feb. 1 on assembly lines at five Toyota plants in North America, including the Camry line at its flagship plant in Kentucky. The shutdown also will affect at least two Toyota engine supply plants in Alabama and West Virginia, along with an unknown number of other plants. It wasn't clear how many workers would be affected; Toyota paid assembly workers during plant shutdowns last year.

Goss said the shutdown was only scheduled for one week at the moment, but he could not say whether Toyota would extend the stoppage if it did not have a fix for the problem by the end of that week.

While stop-sale orders are not unheard of in the auto industry, most involve a far smaller number of vehicles. Ford Motor Co. never ordered a stop sale during the Firestone tire recall on Ford Explorers in 1999, but it did halt production for a couple of weeks to boost the supply of replacement tires.

Toyota's recall also includes the 2009-10 models of the Pontiac Vibe, which Toyota built for General Motors at the closed GM-Toyota joint plant in Fremont, Calif. GM spokesman Alan Adler said GM could not comment on Toyota's stop-sale order and did not know how many Vibes were left in dealer lots following the death of the brand last year.

Toyota owners with questions are advised to go to toyota.com or call their local dealership.

Jewel Gopwani of McClatchy/Tribune news contributed to this report.



Models affected by recall



2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, certain 2007-2010 Camrys, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2008-2010 Sequoia

— McClatchy/Tribune news

Comments:
It is called "cruise control".
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