Video: Toyota CEO ‘confident’ over accelerator fix

  1. Closed captioning of: Toyota CEO ‘confident’ over accelerator fix

    >> you very much. jim lentz is president of toyota 's division in the united states . he's here with us for an exclusive interview. it's good for you to be with us during what i know is a tough time for your company. i want to start where tom's piece ended. that tanya nickels says she's afraid the car is going to be fixed. she doesn't want it back unless she can be guaranteed that it's safe. these are words that no ceo wants to hear. can you guarantee tanya nickels that her car will be safe?

    >> we've studied the events ever unintended acceleration. and we're quite clear that it's come down to two different issues. one is the entrapment of the mat and the floor pedal, in the pedal. and we have announced a recall on that late last year. the sticking pedal issue -- that we just announced and put a stop-sell on our vehicles. we're confident that we have a fix for that. and between those two things, this will be under control.

    >> before we go forward, let me go back. when did your company know? when did you personally know and other officials at your company know that you had a serious problem with unwanted acceleration, or slow response from acceleration?

    >> in the case of the slow response, this most recent one, the first technical report that we had, that we could duplicate the issue was in late october of last year.

    >> now you've seen the " los angeles times " report. it says that, that in the last decade, there had been 2,000 reports of unwanted acceleration. some 800 accidents, 19 of those linked to fatalities. your company was unaware of those reports for that period of time?

    >> the number of deaths and accidents, whether it's one or whether it's 2,000, doesn't really make a difference. we've been investigating this for a long time. and we're quite confident --

    >> for a long time. did you know about it since october of last year? have you been investigating it for a long time?

    >> there are two different issues involved in this. one is entrapment of the pedal.

    >> with the floor mats.

    >> with the floor mats. but the sticking accelerator pedal , we had knowledge of that in october of last year.

    >> so in the letter you wrote or the company you wrote to the national highway transportation safety administration saying that they knew as of 2007 that there was some issues with tundra trucks, was that the entrapment issue? or was that unwanted acceleration because of a sticking pedal?

    >> that was not sticking pedals. the initial concerns were over entrapment. and we concentrated on mats. and now we have reshaped, the pedals on those vehicles to reduce the risk of that happening.

    >> so the general question -- did toyota drag its feet knowing it had a serious problem, potentially life-threatening problem? did your company drag its feet?

    >> no, i don't believe we did. this company has been in business in this country for 50 years. we've built our reputation on quality, dependability, reliability and safety. the safety of our customers is our utmost concern.

    >> there's some other concerns, mr. lentz , that perhaps -- the problem you're announcing the fix for today, isn't the entire problem. cts, which is the company that makes the accelerators has said, we're being blamed unfairly here. this is not our product. some analysts have said this could in fact not be a physical problem with the accelerator, this could run deeper. this could be an electronic sensor in this car that is sending the wrong signal to the engine. how do you respond to that?

    >> well, we are convinced and we are confident that it is in fact a sticky accelerator and is the issue of the entrapment. in terms of the electronics, we have tested the electronics thoroughly, as have other independents. there are redundant fail-safe mechanisms within the electronic pedal that make it --

    >> did you ever receive, did toyota ever receive any reports of acceleration issues prior to the time that cts was making this product for you? which i believe was 2005 ?

    >> i -- no specifically, there are a lot of different issues around unintended acceleration. it could be transmission-related, it could be cruise control -related.

    >> but you're confident that the fix you're announcing today will completely fix the acceleration problems with toyota vehicles that have now been recalled?

    >> i'm confident. i'll tell you what, matt. i drive toyotas , my family members drive toyotas , my friends and neighbors drive toyotas . i would not have them in products that i knew were not safe.

    >> first of all, how quickly do you think this company can fix all of these vehicles that have now been recalled?

    >> the training is already taking place at our dealerships. parts will be shipping today. so i think by later on this week, we'll begin the process of notification to bring customers in.

    >> and if i owned one of the recalled vehicles. between now and the time that i can get my dealer to fix it, should i be driving that vehicle? or should i park it in my driveway?

    >> in the case of the sticky accelerator. it comes on over time . i would suggest to a customer, that has a sensation that the pedal is slow in returning, or that the pedal is not smooth in going down -- that they should contact their dealer and get their vehicle in.

    >> let me talk about the impact of all of this for toyota . this recall and suspension of sales will likely cost your company some half billion dollars a month. the stock price for your company has fallen almost 18% since january 21st . now your friends at ford and gm are offering incentives for toyota owners to trade in their karsz for new vehicles at ford and gm. in other words, they see blood in the water. how big is the impact on your company?

    >> it's difficult to say at this point. i think the key is that we have the fix, our dealers are ready. our dealers are going to be working weekends, some dealers as you've understand, are going to be working 24/7 to take care of the customers. i think the key is right now is we know what the problem is. we have the fix. and we're going to take great care of our customers through our dealers to insure that they're satisfied and have a great experience.

    >> crisis management experts told the a.p. over the weekend that the problem with this likely surfaced years ago. but the culture at toyota , fast-growing, wanting to beat the competition, no one wanted do break the bad news to the boss.

    >> i don't think there's the case. there's no question that we were fast growing. could that have in an issue with some of our quality issues, it's quite possible. but our desire has never been to be the number one automaker. our desire has always been to be number one in the hearts and minds of our customers. the customers decide who's number one, who's number two, whatever it might be. we want to provide quality products at affordable prices for our customers.

    >> jim lentz and toyota making a major announcement today on how to fix the recall problem. mr. lentz , as i said, you're good to give us time during a tough time in the company.

    >> thank you matt. appreciate it.

updated 2/1/2010 8:39:53 PM ET 2010-02-02T01:39:53

Toyota apologized to its customers Monday and said a piece of steel about the size of a postage stamp will fix the gas pedal problem that led to the recall of millions of cars. Repairs will take about a half-hour and will start in a matter of days, the company said.

Toyota insisted the solution, rolled out six days after it temporarily stopped selling some of its most popular models, had been through rigorous testing and would solve the problem for the life of the car.

After a week in which Toyota drivers said they were worried about the safety of their cars and dealers were frustrated by a lack of information, Toyota said it would work to regain the trust of its customers.

"I know that we have let you down," Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said in a video address.

The repair involves installing a steel shim a couple of millimeters thick in the pedal assembly, behind the top of the gas pedal, to eliminate excess friction between two pieces of the accelerator mechanism. In rare cases, Toyota says, that friction can cause the pedal to become stuck in the depressed position.

Toyota said car owners would be notified by mail and told to set up appointments with their dealers. It said cars already on the road would get priority over those on the lot.

Recalled models

The recall covered 4.2 million cars worldwide, 2.3 million of them in the United States, including some of Toyota's best-selling models, such as the Camry and Corolla. It has recalled millions more because of floor mats that can catch the gas pedal.

Jeffrey Liker, a University of Michigan engineering professor who has studied Toyota for 25 years, said he believed the fix would work, citing the automaker's reputation for careful testing and engineering.

"They are under the gun. They aren't playing any games," he said.

Toyota would not give an estimated cost for the repair work. It estimated repairing all the recalled cars would take months. It said some dealers were planning to stay open around the clock to make the repairs once parts arrive. Parts were expected to begin arriving late Tuesday and Wednesday.

Earl Stewart, who owns a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Florida, and had been critical of delays in getting repair parts to dealers, said he was happy with the fix. He said he was reassured that it had been tested by independent engineers, not just Toyota's.

"You never say you're absolutely sure about anything, but I feel that this is probably the answer," he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had "no reason to challenge this remedy." Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week the government had urged Toyota to issue the recall and suspend production and told reporters Monday that Toyota had "done the right thing."

NHTSA continues to investigate the issue and was looking into the possibility of electrical problems, said a Transportation Department official. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation, said electromagnetic interference might cause the throttle control systems in the Toyota vehicles to malfunction but NHTSA had not seen evidence to support that yet.

Etienne Plas, a spokesman for Toyota Motors Europe in Brussels, said the car maker would implement the same remedy for faulty gas pedals in Europe, but he did not know when.

Besides millions of dollars a day in lost sales, the recall posed a public-relations challenge to Toyota, which for decades has enjoyed a loyal customer base and a reputation for quality.

It took out full-page newspaper ads declaring the episode a pause "to put you first," and on Monday it sent Lentz to morning news shows to express confidence in the fix.

"This is embarrassing for us to have ... this kind of recall situation," Lentz told reporters. "But it doesn't necessarily mean that we have lost our edge on quality. But we do have to be vigilant. We have to redouble our efforts to make sure this doesn't happen again."

That was not enough for Dennis Dukes of Stony Point, North Carolina, and his wife, who said they wouldn't drive their 2010 Camry again, even with the repair. His wife ran into the back of a truck in August in their first Camry, a crash Dukes said happened after she hit the brakes and the car kept going.

"I am absolutely not going to drive that vehicle again," Dukes said. "Whether it fixes the Camry or not, the damage has been done. It is not going to fix things mentally for us."

Toyota says it will have a failsafe system in most of its models by the end of this year and all models by the end of 2011, so that the accelerator goes to idle if the brake is pressed at the same time.

Jake Fisher, senior automotive engineer for Consumer Reports, criticized Toyota for having too few models with mechanisms that can override a stuck accelerator.

Consumer Reports recommends shifting the car into neutral if the accelerator gets stuck, braking and then steering to the side of the road.

Another safety expert, Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, said Toyota may be rushing out a fix without considering other potential sources of the problem, such as the electronics of the pedal system.

"Toyota is betting their reputation that this is the last and latest fix that will correct the problem," he said. "It if doesn't, they are in a world of trouble."

Toyota said it was confident the problem was mechanical.

"Our vehicles go through extensive electromagnetic radiation testing," said Robert Waltz, Toyota's vice president of product quality. "And we have never been able to get our systems to fail through any of the tests that have been done on them."

The company plans to restart production Feb. 8 on models covered by the recall — the Camry, Corolla, Avalon and Highlander cars, the Matrix hatchback, the Tundra pickup, the RAV4 crossover and the Sequoia SUV.

Lentz said the decision to stop selling the affected vehicles would hurt January sales, but he said the impact over the long term is unclear.

Toyota shareholders appeared pleased. The company's stock, which took a hit last week, was up nearly 4 percent Monday. The broader market was up 1.4 percent.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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