Toyota issues public apology, details plan to fix pedals

Last year, Toyota took the extraordinary step of suspending the manufacture and sale of some of its most popular models because of a flaw in their accelerators. Toyota executives soon were called to Capitol Hill for testimony and a probe was launched to find the cause of the problem.
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Toyota apologized directly to its U.S. customers Monday and announced the details of its plan to repair the cars it has sold with potentially sticky accelerator pedals.

"First, I want to sincerely apologize to Toyota owners," Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota's U.S. sales, said in a video posted on the company's Web site. "I know that our recalls have caused many of you concern and for that I am truly sorry."

Later, in an interview on NBC's "Today" show, Lentz said the automaker first developed a technical report on the problem in late October. The recall for sticking pedals occurred Jan. 21.

Lentz denied that the company had been "dragging its feet" after years of complaints involving unintended acceleration and sought to assure the company's concerned customers.

"I drive Toyotas. My family members drive Toyotas," he said. "I would not have them in products that I knew were not safe."

By the end of the week, dealers should receive the parts to fix the sticky gas pedals, Toyota said. Some dealers will stay open 24 hours a day in order to make the repairs.

The appearance by Lentz in television interviews Monday comes as the world's largest automaker seeks to rebuild consumer confidence after a recall that has extended to millions of cars around the world and tarnished the company's reputation.

Safety Research and Strategies, an industry researcher, says it has documented 2,262 reported incidents of sudden acceleration involving Toyota vehicles, causing 815 crashes, 341 injuries and 19 deaths, since 1999.

Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda addressed the issue on Friday with Japanese broadcaster NHK at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, saying: "I am very sorry that we are making our customers feel concerned. . . . People can feel safe driving in the current situation." But the statement by Lentz was the first apology aimed at a U.S. audience by a senior Toyota official.

The problem involves a friction device that is supposed to provide the proper "feel" in the pedal by adding resistance and making it steady and stable, the automaker said.

Over time, however, parts of the friction device have begun to stick instead of operating smoothly.

The solution is a steel reinforcement bar, which, when installed into the assembly, will eliminate the excess friction.

"The company has confirmed the effectiveness of the newly reinforced pedals through rigorous testing on pedal assemblies that had previously shown a tendency to stick," the company said in a statement Monday.

"Toyota has done the right thing by providing a remedy for this serious safety issue," Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a conference call with reporters.

Separately, the company has recently recalled cars in which floor mats can cause the accelerator pedal to become stuck in the depressed position. About 2.1 million vehicles are affected by both the pedal and floor-mat recalls, Toyota said.

With the new fix, the company hopes that both problems will be resolved.

"Between these two things, this should be under control," Lentz said.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company