DETROIT — Toyota is sending new gas pedal systems to its factories rather than its dealership service departments, The Associated Press learned Friday. The move angered some dealers who say they should get the parts to take care of the millions of car owners whose accelerators may stick.
Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons confirmed a company e-mail obtained by the AP that says parts were shipped to the automaker’s plants.
He said the company has not sent parts to its dealers because it has yet to determine whether it will repair — or replace altogether — the gas pedals on the 4.2 million Toyotas that have been recalled worldwide.
Toyota, he said, will announce next week how it will solve the problem, and the repair work should be finished in less than a month.
But some dealers said they should get the parts first so that they can fix the cars already on the road.
Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., said his mechanics might not know the details of how to fix the gas pedals, but they know how to install new ones.
“That’s absolutely stupid,” he said of sending the parts to factories. “It makes no sense at all.”
Toyota dealers have been complaining for days that the automaker has left them in the dark about the nature of the gas pedal problem, when and how it will be fixed, and what to tell customers fearful their accelerators will get stuck and cause their cars to crash.
Toyota owners were both confused about what to do with their cars and angry that the company had no any answers on when a fix would be available.
“I’ve got a $30,000 vehicle and they don’t know how to fix it,” said Johnathan Jones, a salesman from Fort Mitchell, Ala., who said he won’t put his 10-year-old twins in his 2009 Toyota Tundra. “To me, it’s a big safety hazard with my children.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has attributed five deaths and 17 injuries to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles since 2006, but it could not say whether any of those involved vehicles covered by the recall.
Toyota stopped selling eight U.S. models, including the top-selling Camry, on Tuesday. It also announced that it will stop building them until the problem is fixed.
The company presented a remedy on Thursday to NHTSA and is awaiting a decision before proceeding.
“We’re not ready to launch this program yet,” Lyons said, adding that letters must be sent to customers and mechanics must be trained on whatever solution the company ultimately decides on.
Toyota, Stewart said, may be trying to save money by using a less-expensive repair on the millions of vehicles already sold, and using the new parts to keep factories running.
“That just doesn’t wash well with the customers out there driving these vehicles,” he said. “I think at this point you throw cost to the wind and do everything you can to rebuild your brand and your image.”
However, Toyota said its highest priority is fixing the pedals for car owners. “Nothing is more important to Toyota than doing the right thing for our customers — and restoring their confidence in the safety of our vehicles,” the automaker said in a statement.
Toyota has also said the accelerators stick only in rare cases.
The automaker blamed the problem on condensation in the pedal assembly, which includes the pedal, a curved arm that goes into the engine compartment, and springs that send the pedal back to its resting position when the driver eases up on the gas.
The condensation creates friction that can cause a delayed return of the pedal or, in rare cases, sticking, Lyons said.
Toyota said that not all of the models listed in the recall have the faulty gas pedals, which were made by CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind.
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.
The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is launching an investigation. It has scheduled a Feb. 4 hearing titled “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?” and asked Yoshi Inaba, chairman and CEO of Toyota Motor North America, to testify. Separately, a House investigative panel is planning a Feb. 25 hearing.