With dealers holding their collective breath after Toyota’s promise that replacement gas pedal modules are on their way to places like Norwood, Mass.’s Boch Toyota, the back shops at this and other dealerships in the Greater Boston/Eastern Massachusetts area, are ramping up for some long sessions.
Ernie Boch Jr., principal of this Boston area landmark and second-generation dealership owner, told the Boston CBS-TV affiliate WBZ-TV, today that his mechanical shop was planning to work 24 hours a day until all of the kits had been installed not only in the cars on their lot, but also into customer vehicles.
Toyota has plainly been caught flat-footed by this particular problem, first announcing a recall last week of 2.3 million vehicles across the country early last week and then almost immediately adding another 1.5 million to the mix a day or so later.
The issue of faulty gas pedal modules has been responsible for more than 60 complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and at least four fatalities as a car took off and ended up jumping a guardrail and flipping upside-down into a lake.
The total recall of 3.8 million vehicles comes almost on the heels of last summer’s recall of 4.3 million vehicles for a similar problem that also involves the front floor mats and which resulted in Toyota not only urging drivers to put their floormats into the trunk but had also forced the auto manufacturer to redesign the gas pedal itself. This recall follows reports of unintended acceleration that caused the death of a California Highway Patrolman and three members of his family last summer. It also had the unprecedented effect of having Akio Toyoda, scion of the auto family and its first member to be at the helm in a generation, to not only apologize to stockholders and owners, but also to the family of the CHP officer.
Lately, according to wire service reports published today by the Associated Press, Toyoda has been trying to avoid public comment, but they did manage to find him and he again apologized to the public and stockholders for not only the problem but the losses it caused.
Local dealers, like Norwood’s Boch, are the ones who have felt most of the pain. First, they have not been able to sell eight lines of cars including their highly popular Camry and Corolla, as well a Tundras, Highlanders, Matrixes and more. This is like putting a boxer in the ring with both arms and a leg tied up so that all he can do is hop around.
Boch has been putting a brave face on this on camera, expressing support for Toyota and its ability to provide a fix but also for the company in general which has spent nearly two generations — at least 35 years — touting its image as the reliability king.
Now customers are so nervous about their Toyotas they are acting like the Camry driver in Rhode Island who drove the vehicle into the dealership last week and refused to drive it out. The AP reported the driver was given a Kia, although it didn’t say whether the vehicle was a replacement or just a loaner.
Still, it has to hurt dealers like Boch or Framingham’s Bernardi Toyota, which has been under the same sales ban. Boch and Bernardi, as well as other Toyota dealers such as the dealer in Acton and another in Wellesley, all towns in Eastern or Central Mass., have been faced with lots full of cars that can’t go anywhere.
They’ve also been facing an increasingly nervous customer base, wire service reports have indicated. One customer at a local dealership, who has put 98,000 miles on his late-model Camry is now afraid to drive it any distance for fear they will have a problem.
Indeed, AP reported that a driver in New Jersey found his car accelerating unexpectedly so he took the action that Toyota recommended.
- Getting on the brakes hard with both feed
- Sliding the gearshift lever into neutral
- Letting the vehicle slow down as control is regained
- Getting the vehicle to dealership as quickly as possible
As reported by AP, the driver slipped the car back into gear because he was only three miles from his dealership and it happened almost immediately so that he had to limp the car into the dealership’s service area. By the time he arrived there, the brakes and transmission were smoking. This is not a great advertisement for quality and it is plaguing dealers right now.
Even key executives like Boch or, another who comes to mind in Framingham, Steve Aswad, general sales manager of Bernardi Toyota, are having trouble getting in touch with the powers-that-be at Toyota and they and others in the Midwest are likely to be frustrated. As Boch’s customers told TV reporters, they have their doubts now.
The problem, identified to a specific gas pedal module made by a subdivision of Elkhard, Ind.-based CTS in Canada, causes slow or sticky response over time and eventually can rub and cause unintentional acceleration. Interestingly, AOL Autos indicated last week, the same module, but made by Denso, has had no such problems.
So, right now in dealerships across Massachusetts, it’s hurry-up-and-wait time as their mechanics get their training for the 30-minute repair job and they gear up for the complaints. Boch promised he’d jump on this as soon as the parts arrive. He is the type of dealer who will do exactly that.
The funny thing about this whole issue is that this should have been a banner year for Toyota. It:
- Overtook General Motors as the number-one seller in global car sales (which has some questioning whether the company or its executives was ready for that type of growth
- Had the number-one selling midsized in Camry last year in the U.S. with 350,000 or so units sold
- Had the number-one selling compact in Corolla at 297,000
This also comes at a time when the automaker had thought it had turned the corner in its economy issues that led to a $4.3 billion loss last year and now another loss that, after the sales and manufacturing halts have been figured into the picture, as well as the fixes to customer cars, may again run in the same vicinity. It’s not fun being a Toyota dealer right now, but, as Boch promised, they would hang in their for their customers.