Toyota Still Confident in Electronics; Sticky Pedals, Floor Mats Fixed

August 6, 2010

Toyota Motor Corp remains confident its electronic controls have not failed and has made about 80 percent of the U.S. repairs under the recall for sticky accelerator pedals, the automaker’s top quality control executive in North America said Thursday.

Toyota has recalled about 11 million vehicles worldwide in the past year, many to deal with unintended acceleration issues stemming from accelerator pedals that could stick in the open position or become trapped by floor mats.

“I really feel 100 percent confident there is nothing wrong with our electronic systems,” Steve St. Angelo told Reuters on the sidelines of an industry conference in northern Michigan.

Toyota also has made repairs on up to half of the U.S. vehicles in which accelerators need to be reshaped to keep floor mats from trapping the pedal, St. Angelo said.

His remarks at the Center for Automotive Research conference come just days after plaintiffs’ lawyers filed an amended federal lawsuit that argued Toyota ignored evidence of acceleration problems for most of the past decade and failed to to install systems that could have prevented accidents.

Toyota has created a global task force chaired by the company’s president, Akio Toyoda, to address concerns about vehicle quality with a pledge to act more quickly in future recalls.

Toyota posted a nearly $2.5 billion operating profit for the quarter ending in June, but saw its margin decline because of sales incentives it used to woo U.S. consumers in the wake of its recall crisis.

St. Angelo chairs a North American quality task force that meets weekly, while the global committee chaired by Toyoda met in March in Japan and will meet again in October, he said.

“We are now speaking with one voice for North America,” he said. “We can bring all of our concerns together, speak with one voice to Japan and be more clear in exactly what we want.”

He said the ultimate indicator the task force changes were taking hold would be if Toyota’s sales and market share increase and incentives are declining.

The company has said it wants to cut its U.S. sales incentives by up to 20 percent in coming months.

The amount Toyota has discounted the average vehicle jumped by almost 70 percent in July from a year earlier to just over $2,200, according to tracking firm Edmunds.

Separately, St. Angelo said the United Auto Workers union’s decision to picket Toyota dealerships to protest the closing of a California plant would not win support for the union among Toyota workers.

The plant known as NUMMI had the only unionized plant for Toyota in the United States.

“When the UAW pickets our dealerships our team members get angry,” said St. Angelo, a former General Motors Co executive.

GM previously backed out of its role in the joint-venture plant in Fremont, California as part of its 2009 bankruptcy. Toyota later decided to transfer production of its Tacoma truck and Corolla sedan from the plant to facilities in Texas and Mississippi.

On Monday, UAW President Bob King, who vowed to “pound on Toyota” for the closure of NUMMI, said he wanted Asian and European automakers to agree to abide by a set of principles that would govern the union’s attempt to organize their workers.

St. Angelo, who was one of the speakers at a conference organized by the Center for Auto Research, said morale remained “really good” among Toyota factory workers in the United States and noted that efforts to unionize the automaker’s plants had failed for 25 years.

“I will tell you that we have principles in the Toyota way and they have worked well for us the last 25 years,” he added.

(Reporting by David Bailey and Bernie Woodall; editing by Andre Grenon)

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