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Toyota may delay some models over quality

Toyota Motor Co.’s campaign to strengthen quality control and reduce recalls could delay some of its models, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said Friday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toyota Motor Co.’s campaign to strengthen quality control and reduce recalls could delay some of its models, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said Friday.

Watanabe, however, denied that there was a decision to delay models across the board, saying that the development of individual vehicles would be decided case-by-case.

The Japanese automaker is tightening its quality control methods in a campaign to reduce a spate of recalls that could erode the company’s reputation.

“We try to affirm each process,” Watanabe said at a demonstration of safety features west of Tokyo. “And in that process, some may be delayed, and some may be on time.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Toyota was considering slowing the development of some new models by as much as six months because of the quality problems.

Watanabe, however, said the company’s emphasis was on making sure quality-control procedures were properly carried out, rather than on how much time the process took. He denied the recalls occurred because Toyota rushed the development of some models.

The company is reviewing design, procurement, and other stages of car manufacturing, while looking more closely at complaints from buyers to reduce recalls and defects in production, he said.

“I feel we are making progress,” Watanabe told reporters. He also said he did not know of any specific models that could be delayed by the changes.

Toyota has faced an increasing numbers of recalls partially due to its efforts to cut costs by using the same parts across different models.

In addition, Japanese authorities have launched a criminal investigation into three Toyota officials suspected of failing to do anything about a faulty steering part, which may have caused a 2004 head-on accident that injured five people.

On Friday, Chinese authorities said Toyota will recall 20,069 Crown sedans made in China because of defective rubber strips that seal the windshields.

Tianjin FAW Toyota Motor Co., a joint venture between Toyota and China’s FAW Group, will recall the cars beginning Monday, the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China said in a statement on its Web site. The venture hasn’t received any reports about accidents or injuries related to the problem, it said.

Yale Zhang, an auto analyst with CSM Worldwide, said the number of sedans involved isn’t big compared with recalls internationally. The defect is also a small problem and is unlikely to hurt Toyota’s sales in China, he said.

Toyota also recently was embarrassed by a sexual harassment lawsuit in the U.S. against Hidetaka Otaka, who has since stepped down as the president and chief executive of Toyota’s U.S. unit. Otaka said he is innocent and Toyota settled the lawsuit earlier this month.

Toyota appointed Jim Press, an American who headed Toyota’s U.S. sales unit, as president of Toyota Motor North America Inc., the first non-Japanese to take that position.