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Toyota Reverses Course, Sends Parts to Dealers First, Delaying Plant Restart

“Minor Repair,” says one major Toyota dealer.

by on Jan.31, 2010

Toyota dealers should begin getting replacement accelerator parts later this week, but repairs will only begin with federal approval of the fix.

Reversing course, Toyota Motor Co. has decided to ship replacement accelerator units to its U.S. dealers before using them to get five shuttered North American assembly lines back in operation.

Describing the replacement as a “minor repair,” one major Washington, D.C. dealer said it hopes to begin start contacting customers to make repairs as soon as it has a “sufficient” supply of the parts on the had.  But while Toyota is pressing its supplier, CTS Corp., to turn out accelerator assemblies as rapidly a possible, it’s unclear how long the latest in a series of safety setbacks for the automaker will be resolved.

The problem is that there are three major steps that must be taken before things get anywhere back to normal:

  • Toyota must notify owners of eight affected vehicles of the recall; dealers must schedule appointments and then complete repairs;
  • Dealers must also complete repairs of the un-sold vehicles sitting on their lots. There are an estimated 200,000 or more of the affected vehicles that will need new accelerator assemblies before they can be sold;
  • Toyota’s factories cannot begin producing the new vehicles until the plants have a steady supply of the replacement components.
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The automaker initially planned to ship the first of the new accelerator parts to its factories, but when word hit the news media, including  Ken Zino’s report click here, that triggered a hue-and-cry that led the embattled company to re-direct the components to dealership

Brian Lyons, a Toyota spokesman, told the AP that the parts “are on their way to dealers,” but he cautioned it was unclear when they would arrive and how soon repairs could begin.

“We’ve been told we’ll have then late in the week,” said Jack Fitzgerald, owner of suburban Washington-based Fitzgerald Auto Mall, told TheDetroitBureau.com, but so far he is not sure how many parts will come in, nor how quickly his repair shop will be able to handle both customers and the unsold vehicles on its lot.

“We’re told it’s an easy repair and takes minutes,” added Fitzgerald, but they are still waiting for specific information as to what the repairs actually will involve.

But even when parts arrive, it is not entirely clear if dealers will be allowed to begin replacing faulty accelerator units.  Toyota must first receive approval for the repair program from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which oversees vehicle safety and recalls, cautioned spokesman Lyons.

When Toyota first announced the recall on January 21st, it appeared the company was still trying to understand the problem and design a fix.  Toyota now says that while the problem remains uncommon, it is caused by condensation entering the pedal assembly, where the curved throttle arm moves in and out of the engine compartment.  Springs are supposed to push back when the driver lifts off the pedal but the condensation can delay that or cause the throttle to simply stick in place.

Dealer Fitzgerald praised Toyota for the speed of its actions and its willingness to shut down its assembly lines and for shipping replacement accelerator components to dealers first.  He said he recalls similar issues where one of his franchises focused on keeping its factories running, keeping dealers and customers waiting – though the Washington dealer declined to mention which brand by name.

While the recall involves more than 2 million Toyota products, it’s believed the automaker has about 200,000 of the impacted vehicles on its lots.  The halt in sales is costing about 4,000 units in lost volume daily, or about $100 million in revenues.  And the longer the company must delay restarting its assembly lines the further into the future the impact might be felt as dealers could find themselves short of products once they can resume selling off modes currently in stock.

There’s no question Toyota is struggling to figure out how not only to handle the crisis with this and other recent repairs but also how to minimize damage to its once-formidable reputation.

In his first comments since the accelerator recall was announced, nearly two weeks ago, Toyota CEO and family heir Akio Toyoda said, “”I am very sorry that we are making our customers feel concerned.”

But customers aren’t the only ones.  The influential Consumer Reports magazine has lifted its “Recommended Buy” ratings for all eight of the vehicles involved in the accelerator recall.  Normally, Toyota products get an automatic “Buy” rating from the non-profit publication, though CR did lift that, briefly, on a few models that were suffering quality snags, in 2008.

A number of rent-a-car firms, including Hertz, Avis and Enterprise, have pulled some or all Toyota models from their fleets. (Click here for more.)

Several major used car auction companies – the middlemen in the massive business of re-marketing trade-ins – have halted sales of affected Toyotas for the time being.

And a growing list of automakers, now including General Motors, Ford and Hyundai, have launched aggressive marketing programs, using rebates and other incentives to win over concerned Toyota owners.

Meanwhile, two hearings into the matter have been scheduled on Capitol Hill, one, by the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, will be held on February 10th, a second hearing has been scheduled by a House investigative committee for the 25th. (Click Here for more.)

A total of 2.3 million vehicles are involved in the sticky accelerator recall.  But another 5.3 million cars, trucks and crossovers have been recalled, since last October, for a separate safety problem that could lead to jammed accelerators and out-of-control vehicles.  Toyota claims that recall is the result of “carpet entrapment,” the possibility that loose floor mats could jam the accelerator.

This is Toyota’s latest detailing of the vehicles involved in the sticky accelerator recall:

*Vehicles built in Japan (VIN starting with “JT”) are not involved

**Camrys built at SIA (VIN starting with “4T4”) are equipped with CTS pedals

  • Only vehicles manufactured in North America are involved.  Vehicles manufactured North America can be identified by the first three characters (WMI) in the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN)
  • Accelerator pedals installed on Camry vehicles manufactured in North America will need to be inspected to determine if they are CTS pedals.

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