January 29, 2010 in Business

Toyota fixes on way

Huge recall expands to Europe, China
Tom Krisher And Ken Thomas Associated Press
 

Hearing called

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold a hearing on Feb. 25 to investigate Toyota’s massive recalls related to vehicles that can accelerate out of control.

The probe by the subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations began earlier this week after Toyota said it would stop production and sales of eight of its most popular vehicles, including the Camry and Corolla, while it develops a remedy for a sticking accelerator pedal system that can cause unintended acceleration.

DETROIT – Toyota has begun shipping parts to fix the faulty gas pedals that led to a still-expanding recall and an unprecedented decision to stop selling and building some of its top-selling models, but it still could not say Thursday when millions of its drivers would get their cars fixed.

The world’s largest automaker, bleeding millions of dollars a day in lost sales, also declined to say where the parts are going – to plants so production can start again or to dealers so they can start fixing cars sitting in their showrooms or already on the road.

Amid the uncertainty, the recall grew wider. Toyota expanded the recall beyond an initial 2.3 million vehicles and said it would recall an untold number in Europe and about 75,000 in China because of bad gas pedals that can become stuck.

Separately, Toyota recalled 1.1 million more vehicles this week because of floor mats that can bend and hold down the gas.

The gas pedal system recall includes 2009-2010 RAV4, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007-2010 Tundra and the 2008-2010 Sequoia.

Toyota said the maker of the faulty gas pedal systems, CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., was cranking out replacements at three factories, and that some of them have already been shipped to Toyota.

At the same time, Toyota engineers are working with CTS to develop ways to repair, rather than replace, the pedal systems in existing cars and trucks, said spokesman Brian Lyons.

But there was no estimate for how long it would be until customers can get their cars fixed. The parts are being made at CTS plants, but Toyota has not said where they’re going within its system of plants and dealers.

“We’re well past the root cause identification, and we’re well past what needs to be done to change the pedal assembly itself,” Lyons said.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he had no details of how the problems would be fixed but said he had “no criticism of Toyota on this. They followed the law and they’re doing what they’re supposed to do.”

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration officials met with Toyota representatives to discuss the fix on Thursday, but no details were announced.

The automaker does not need regulatory approval to make repairs or replacements, but company officials do not want to proceed with a fix if the government has concerns, said people familiar with the decisions.

Asked whether Americans should continue to drive the recalled vehicles, LaHood said he would “encourage them to take their car to the Toyota dealer. That’s what we’re telling people to do. That’s what Toyota is telling people to do. That’s the safest thing to do.”

Safety experts say the best thing to do if the gas pedal sticks is to hit the brake hard and hold it firmly, then shift into neutral or shut the car off and steer to the curb. They say drivers should not pump the brake.

Toyota offered its most detailed description of the problem: Condensation can form in the mechanism that connects the foot pedal to the car’s engine, causing friction that prevents the pedal from smoothly springing back when the driver eases up.

The head of CTS, Vinod Khilnani, said his company built the pedal to Toyota’s specifications.

Toyota said the problems occur as the parts wear over time, so drivers should be able to feel more resistance in pressing their gas pedals, and they would return slowly to normal positions. This would occur before the accelerator might stick, said Jake Fisher, senior automotive engineer for Consumer Reports magazine.

If drivers do feel more resistance in the gas pedal they should contact their Toyota dealer, the carmaker says.

“It’s my understanding that the problem doesn’t come out of the blue,” Fisher said. “With time there becomes more and more friction, and it doesn’t operate as smoothly as intended.”

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