No rest for Toyota as Camry recall announced

February 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
For Toyota Motor Company, the recalls just keep on coming. Less than a day after announcing braking problems with its 2010 Prius models and recalling 437,000 of them world-wide, the 2010 Camry took center stage.

Toyota will recall more than 7,000 Camrys due to a problem with brake fluid leakage.

In the meantime, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received a number of complaints about possible steering problems with 2009 and 2010 Corollas.

Oh what a feeling. From public apologies by CEO Akio Toyoda, to overtime for mechanics in dealerships, the company has suffered a palpable fall from grace.

"It's become a media frenzy," Executive Director Sylvia Marino said. "It will be interesting to find out if these latest recalls are an over-reaction by Toyota, or was the company pressured into them?"

The Prius brake problem appears to be more an issue of driving experience than safety. At certain speeds, they feel soft. As a remedy, the company will implement a software fix.

"Many consumers do not appreciate how much these cars have changed," Professor Rick Escalambre, who runs the automobile technicians program at Skyline College, said. "A driver might think that when he steps on the pedal, he activates a cable leading to the engine. In fact it's a wire. These cars are so computerized that a driver could accelerate it by using a joystick. And that, essentially, is the role this gas pedal plays."

As Esclalambre sees it, Toyotas biggest perceived mechanical problems may have started in the public relations department.

"I think they had a problem early on, but never admitted it," he said. "Things got worse from there. Now, they are under a microscope. But, the company will deal with this, and be fine."

Tuesday, Toyota customers bought their cars to dealerships, wondered what to do and waited for fixes. None of them sounded too alarmed.

"I'm irritated. That's all," one said.

"Pretty much every car I've ever driven has been recalled," Tony Quan said. "I think it reflects how complex cars are today; they have a lot of electronic equipment."

Toyota expects the Prius brake fix to take about 30 minutes.

"Just a matter of reflashing the computer," Bob Neizke, who runs the parts and service departments at Toyota of Sunnyvale, said.

The company's reputation, however, will take somewhat longer before recovering.