Nightly News

Nightly News   |  February 03, 2010

Toyota takes another hit

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Wednesday created more confusion for already frustrated Toyota consumers by retracting his earlier suggestion that Toyota owners should stop driving their cars.

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WILLIAMS: Good evening.

Newscast: US secretary of transportation comments on Toyota problems

BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: Today the US secretary of transportation , Ray LaHood , told Americans they should stop driving their Toyotas until the gas pedal problem gets fixed. He then, about 90 minutes later, thought better of it, perhaps realizing a lot of Americans have no choice and were at the moment on the road in their Toyotas . The secretary of transportation then dialed back his remarks. Toyota , however, remains mired in a big problem. Car sales are still frozen. There is skepticism regarding their suggested fix of the problem. And there has never been a bigger gift to US carmakers. Phil LeBeau covers the car business for CNBC and for us. He's back in our New York studios tonight with more on this. The story continues to unravel.

PHIL LeBEAU reporting: And it -- and it got worse for Toyota today. And the big question is whether even Toyota knows everything that may be wrong with its cars and trucks. Today the secretary of transportation said his office is investigating the electronics in Toyota gas pedals. Toyota facing more questions tonight about the safety of its vehicles. Already struggling with a massive recall, Toyota took another hit today when the man in charge of making sure Americans drive safe cars issued this blunt warning for Toyota owners.

Mr. RAY LaHOOD (Secretary of Transportation): If anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it. Take it to Toyota dealer because they believe they have the fix for it.

LeBEAU: Secretary LaHood later backtracked and said those with recalled Toyotas should contact their dealers. Toyota issued a statement telling owners if they have problems with their gas pedals to "please contact your dealer without delay. If you are not experiencing any issues with your pedal, we are confident that your vehicle is safe to drive." Frustrated Toyota dealers are still days from beginning to fix any cars.

Mr. DENNIS LAUZON (Toyota Dealer): It's got people fearful, you know, but in the end I believe Toyota did the right thing.

LeBEAU: Adding to Toyota 's problems, the new Prius . News today the Japanese government has warned Toyota to investigate possible problems with the anti-lock braking system with the 2010 Prius , fueling questions about whether Toyota took action on safety concerns quickly enough, Toyota says it first learned of sticking gas pedals in US cars in October and launched an investigation. So did the Department of Transportation . In December, DOT officials flew to Japan to urge Toyota executives to move quickly on the issue, a message US officials repeated in a meeting with Toyota executives last month, leading to the recall of 2.3 million cars and trucks two weeks ago. Despite full-page ads and top executives saying they have the problem under control, not everyone is convinced.

Ms. JEAN JENNINGS (Automobile Magazine President): We can't make this stuff up. I mean, we can't -- we don't know what's wrong. We don't know if they know what's wrong.

LeBEAU: We may get more answers overnight when Toyota reports quarterly earnings and executives talk with reporters in Japan . The impact of this investigation will be huge for Toyota .

WILLIAMS: And the problem is -- she had it right -- we don't know what's wrong. We don't know if they know what's wrong.

LeBEAU: Exactly.

WILLIAMS: That's the problem. Phil LeBeau , thanks. Always a pleasure to have you here.