Toyota Details Fix for Millions of Gas Pedals; First Lawsuits Filed

BY Kurtis Lee  February 1, 2010 at 3:36 PM EDT

Following its Jan. 21 recall of accelerator pedals in eight models, Toyota* Motor Corp. said Monday it will begin repairs in millions of affected vehicles starting this week.

Toyota said in a statement Monday that its engineers developed and tested a solution that reinforces the pedal assembly in a manner that eliminates the excess friction that has caused some pedals to stick.

The recalled vehicles can be repaired in an “effective and simple” procedure by installing a steel reinforcement bar into pedal assembly that will reduce surface tension between the friction shoe and adjoining surface. As of Monday, the parts needed to fix the vehicles are on their way to dealers and mechanics are being trained how to install them.

“We deeply regret the concern that our recalls have caused for our customers and we are doing everything we can — as fast as we can — to make things right,” said Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota.

Toyota said dealers will work extended hours in an effort to address the recall campaign, with some set to stay open 24 hours to fix the 2.3 million vehicles that date back to 2005 recalled in the United States. In addition, the company has temporarily suspended production of all affected vehicles, which includes the Camry and Corolla, perhaps their top-selling sedans in the United States.

“We are focused on making this recall as simple and trouble-free as possible and will work day and night with our dealers to fix recalled vehicles quickly,” Lentz added. “We want to demonstrate that our commitment to safety is as high as ever and that our commitment to our customers is unwavering.”

Meanwhile, two lawsuits — one filed in Canada, and the other in U.S. federal court in Texas — claim that the world’s largest automaker endangered drivers by ignoring signs of trouble. The suits claim that Toyota should have known sooner about the problems that led to last week’s sales halt.

“Toyota has long known about the defect with their throttle control, and has done too little, too late to correct it,” said Robert Hilliard, a Texas lawyer representing Albert Pena, who says he crashed his 2008 Toyota Avalon in January when the car unexpectedly accelerated through a stop sign.

Toyota said it will restart production of the eight models on Feb. 8 following a weeklong shutdown of six U.S. and Canadian plants.

For more on the affected models and safety information, check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Monday consumer advisory.

The NHTSA said Toyota owners who have their pedals repaired with the “shim” or “spacer” that the automaker is shipping this week could opt to have the whole part replaced once replacement parts are available, according to the Associated Press. The agency said it was not aware of any deaths or injuries linked to the sticky accelerator problem.

In a larger separate recall of 3.8 million U.S. vehicles, the NHTSA said Toyota would fix gas pedals at risk of being trapped by floormats and make replacement pedals available starting in April.

In the past week, Toyota has come under fire for how it has handled — or mishandled — a series of recalls involving defective pedals. On Monday’s NewsHour, Judy Woodruff interviews New York Times reporter Micheline Maynard on the company’s response to the problem and its plans to repair the recalled cars.

* For the record, Toyota is a funder of the NewsHour.