Federal regulators clear Toyota gas pedal fix

January 30, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Toyota Motor Corp. plans to start sending parts to dealers next week to fix a sticky gas pedal problem that has tarnished its image and led to the recall of 4.2 million cars and trucks on three continents, according to people briefed on the matter.

Toyota plans to reveal details of the fix on Monday morning, according to two dealers who asked not to be identified because the plan had not been announced. One dealer was told by a Toyota executive that the parts could arrive Thursday or Friday.

The automaker told the dealers about the plan Saturday after hearing from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it did not object to the fix, the dealers said. A Department of Transportation official, who also requested anonymity because the announcement had not been made, confirmed that the government had no objections.

Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said the company received feedback from the government, but he would not say what that was or when it intends to start sending out parts. The company has said it plans to announce the fix next week, but Michels would not give an exact date.

Toyota has recalled 4.2 million vehicles worldwide because the gas pedal systems can get stuck. The company said the problem is rare and is caused by condensation that builds up in the gas pedal assembly.

Several dealers have said the fix involves slipping a shim into an area where springs push the gas pedal back to its resting position after a driver has eased off the gas, but Toyota has not commented on the repair.

Dealers have been in the difficult position of having no parts to fix the cars ever since the recall was announced on Jan. 21.

The recall in the U.S. covers 2.3 million vehicles and involves the 2009-10 RAV4 crossover, the 2009-10 Corolla, the 2009-10 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-10 Avalon, the 2007-10 Camry, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-10 Tundra pickup and the 2008-10 Sequoia SUV. The recall has been expanded to models in Europe and China.

Toyota said that not all the models listed in the recall have the faulty gas pedals, which were made by CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind. Dealers can tell which models have the CTS pedals. Models made in Japan, and some models built in the U.S., have pedal systems made by another parts supplier, Denso Corp., which function well.

"They've got a fix and it's been approved by NHTSA," said one of the dealers who was happy that parts would be coming soon. Toyota announced late Friday that it would begin shipping new gas pedal systems to dealers as well.

Legally Toyota did not need NHTSA's approval for the fix, but the company submitted the plan to the government agency on Thursday, and it would be unlikely to proceed without the government's blessing.

Michels said the timetable for when dealers will be able to start fixing cars has not been finalized. It still has to train service technicians, send letters to owners of the recalled vehicles and ship out the parts.

"It does take a little time," he said. "That is a lengthy process."

Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., said Saturday he had not been notified of the fix by Toyota. But he's happy to be able to tell customers that he'll soon be getting parts, ending a frustrating week with little information to give them.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel if that's the thing to get this thing behind us," he said. "That's wonderful news for everybody."

Stewart said he would put his service department on duty 24 hours a day if necessary and if he gets enough parts to fix all the cars for his customers.

Toyota has said it is working as quickly as possible to come up with repairs for the cars. A spokesman said Friday that details will be released sometime next week about how it intends to solve the problem.

On Friday, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda made his first public comments about the recall. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he told Japanese broadcaster NHK: "I am very sorry that we are making our customers feel concerned."

"People can feel safe driving in the current situation," he added. "Please trust that we are responding so it will be even safer."

Toyota told employees in an e-mail it is buying full-page ads Sunday in 20 major newspapers to reassure customers.

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports, an influential publication for car buyers, on Friday suspended its "recommended" status for the eight recalled Toyota models.

Toyota also has decided to halt production and stop selling the models covered by the recall until they can be repaired.

The pedal recall is separate from another recall involving floor mats that can bend and push down accelerators. The two recalls combined affect more than 7 million vehicles worldwide.


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