Redesigned gas-pedal assemblies are in production and being shipped to Toyota factories to go into new vehicles in place of the components that triggered a recall of 2.3 million Toyotas on Jan. 21, according to the parts supplier.
But late Wednesday, Toyota (TM) expanded an earlier recall, adding 1.1 million vehicles to the total being called back to fix a floor-mat problem. And the embattled automaker said it will recall cars in Europe and China becase of potential gas-pedal problems.
The automaker said it isn't sure how many cars are affected in Europe and it would communicate with European owners of vehicles that are affected by the problem of sticking pedals.
Toyota says it is recalling 75,500 vehicles in China for the same gas pedal problem behind the U.S. and European recalls.
Meanwhile, parts company CTS Automotive Products is working on ways to modify the faulty pedals in recalled cars on the road instead of replacing them, Toyota said Wednesday night.
"We don't know what the recall remedy (for cars in use) is going to look like. We don't know if we're going to repair pedals or replace pedals, or some combination of both," Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said. But, he said, "we're so very close to making a decision."
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Whatever the fix, it won't be immediate. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it must approve whatever remedy Toyota chooses for owners of its recalled vehicles. And CTS probably would require months to crank out enough new pedals to make a dent in the 2.3 million recalled cars and trucks, if Toyota settles on replacement.
Will Toyota be able to quell its customers' worries soon enough?
"This could be the breaking of the Toyota mystique in the eyes of the American consumer," Dalip Raheja, CEO of Mpower Group, says. Mpower analyzes risk and quality concerns in relationships with outside suppliers.
One problem, then another
The Jan. 21 sticking-throttle recall came on the heels of a separate recall of 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles last fall because floor mats could jam their gas pedals open and send cars zooming out of control.
On Wednesday, Toyota added five more models, about 1.1 million more vehicles, to that floor-mat recall. The additional vehicles bring the total floor-mat related recalls to about 5.3 million vehicles — by far Toyota's biggest and among the industry's largest.
Toyota said the vehicles added to the floor-mat recall are 2008 to 2010 Highlanders, 2009 to 2010 Corollas, 2009 to 2010 Venzas, 2009 to 2010 Matrixes and 2009 to 2010 Pontiac Vibes, which Toyota manufactured for the now-discontinued General Motors brand.
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Toyota said it will modify or replace accelerator pedals in those vehicles, and might alter the shape of the floor to ensure the pedals can't get jammed by floor mats, even if the mats don't fit properly or are loose.
Together, the recalls could cost Toyota hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs and millions more in marketing efforts to convince customers Toyotas still are as reliable and safe as their previous image portrayed them.
"It's an interesting opportunity for other automakers to grab back share they've been losing to Toyota," Raheja said.
General Motors wasted no time responding. On Wednesday, it announced special $1,000 discounts and 0% loans to people who trade in Toyotas on GM vehicles. GM's overall sales manager Steve Hill says that's GM's way of helping after getting, he says, thousands of calls from worried Toyota owners.
"We're just getting barraged by phone calls from our dealers and our field personnel" about Toyota owners wanting different cars, he said.
The Toyota recall "will either halt my search or point me in another direction," said Corey Hall, 26, of Lake Zurich, Ill., who was considering a Toyota Matrix, one of the recalled models.
Raheja predicted "some grand public gesture" from Toyota, such as "high-level resignations and apologies," as well as attempts to mollify owners by giving them something beyond a safer-design gas pedal. In a move unprecedented in the auto business, Toyota halted sales of the recalled models on Tuesday, and said it will stop manufacturing those models on Monday.
Some on the recall list date to 2005. Together, the eight cars and trucks account for about two-thirds of sales of Toyota-brand vehicles in the U.S. Toyota's Lexus and Scion brands are not included in the Jan. 21 recall.
"There's no reason for the plants to crank back up until we're sure" what the final recall method will be, Lyons said. "We're not going to start the assembly lines until we have the complete picture," he said, declining to forecast how soon that would be.
Toyota took the dramatic step of halting sales and production because NHTSA "informed Toyota of their obligations, and they complied with the law. Their decision to halt sales was legally and morally the right thing to do," NHTSA administrator David Strickland said Wednesday.
NHTSA and Toyota both consider the latest recall a different matter from the fall recall involving floor mats. Still, Toyota says that 1.7 million of the newly recalled vehicles also are included in the floor-mat recall.
NHTSA said that it prodded Toyota into the Jan. 21 recall by telling the automaker that the government was about to launch an investigation into the sticking-pedal issue. NHTSA investigators went to Texas to look into a fatal crash last month that appeared linked to a throttle problem. They also went to New Jersey after learning of a Toyota owner who pulled into a dealership, the car's throttle stuck open and the engine racing. Both incidents were reported by ABC News.
Word of the pedals, and GM's aggressive move to snare worried Toyota owners, came on a day bristling with activity from the sticking-throttle recall:
•GM said it wouldn't sell any 2009 or 2010 Pontiac Vibes. GM has killed the Pontiac brand, and only a handful of Vibes remain unsold, spokesman Alan Adler said. The recall affects about 99,000 on the road. The Vibe is a near-clone of the Toyota Matrix and was built by Toyota for Pontiac. It is the only non-Toyota vehicle on the recall list.
•Big rental-car companies pulled Toyotas and Vibes from their fleets, acknowledging that means they'll have shortages.
Avis Budget Group and Hertz said Wednesday that they are immediately removing about 20,000 Toyotas from their rental fleets. Enterprise Holdings said it is removing all Toyotas and Vibes from its Alamo Rent A Car, Enterprise Rent-A-Car and National Car Rental chains.
•A study by CNW Research tracking shoppers' perception of quality showed that even before the floor-mat and sticking-pedal recalls, Toyota had fallen from its perennial first or second place to seventh. CNW head Art Spinella says he's considering a survey to track the effect of the recalls.
•The main dealer trade group, the National Automobile Dealers Association, praised Toyota for "doing the right thing" by making an about-face from its previous stance and halting sales and production of the recalled cars. But, NADA noted, "This is creating a very difficult situation for dealers," shut off from Toyota's best-selling models.
•U.S. investors punished Toyota. Its ADRs slid 8.1% in Wednesday trading, dropping $7.01 to $79.77.
Contributing: Sharon Silke Carty in Detroit; Chris Woodyard in Los Angeles; and the Detroit Free Press