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Questions about Toyota's Response to Complaints Continue

Posted: Feb 08, 2010 09:52 a.m.

As consumers deal with the fallout from the massive Toyota recalls, the company is dealing with questions about its response to consumer safety complaints.

USA Today reports, “As Toyota grappled Sunday with reports that it was recalling its Prius hybrids in Japan and may do so in the United States, evidence continued to beg whether the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responded quickly enough to reports of sudden acceleration in some of its other models.”

The New York Times says, “Toyota’s recalls and disclosures in recent months are part of a lengthy pattern in which the automaker has often reacted slowly to safety concerns, in some instances making design changes without telling customers about problems with vehicles already on the road, an examination of its record shows.”  The paper adds, “Toyota, a company that built its reputation with meticulous attention to quality, is now facing a credibility crisis as little-known problems are surfacing with many of its models.”

USA Today reports “The automaker has undergone several investigations about such concerns starting in 2004, when complaints began filtering in about 2002 and 2003 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES models. And NHTSA opened a file on Toyota in 2007 to look into acceleration issues on Lexus models, but closed it seven months later.”

The Times adds that Toyota began receiving sudden acceleration complaints concerning its models sold in Europe in December of 2008, but “In a Congressional committee meeting on Jan. 27, Toyota officials said they first learned of this problem through reports of sticking pedals in vehicles in England and Ireland in the spring of 2009. But Toyota later acknowledged it had received reports there as early as December 2008.”

ABC News reports, “After several investigations, it was only last week that Toyota owners learned federal regulators, concerned that the company was not taking apparently dangerous defects seriously enough, traveled to Japan in December to light a fire under corporate executives. Meanwhile, millions of Toyotas continued to be driven by drivers unaware of the potential scope of the problem, and the cars continued to be sold.”

Coverage of the recalls and the new slate of stories questioning what and when Toyota knew about problems, and how it responded to them, has the potential to seriously harm Toyota sales. In a separate article, the Times reports, “Toyota estimated that it lost 20,000 sales in the last week of January, a decline of 16 percent over all, after it suspended sales and production of eight recalled models. Executives in Japan said the company could lose 80,000 sales in the United States and 20,000 more in other countries.”

Still, some people are shopping.  The L.A. Times says, “Between the Super Bowl and word that thousands of Prius hybrids could soon join the millions of vehicles already being recalled, Sunday threatened to be an awful day at Toyota of Glendale. But a slow stream of customers headed into its Brand Boulevard showroom throughout the morning and early afternoon. Some were looking for bargains, some for answers and some loyal customers were looking to buy.”

Bargain shoppers may spell inroads for Toyota. "They're under so much scrutiny right now they have to follow through," a customer at Toyota of Glendale told the L.A. Times. "It's also an opportunity to get a good deal."  The customer test-drove a 2010 Prius, but left without completing the deal, hoping the recall might pressure the dealership into a lower price.

Check out the latest Toyota recall news and information, including how the company's recent troubles affect our rankings. If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals