Toyota points to progress in safety fixes

By SHAWN LANGLOIS / MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO – Drivers appear to be much less fearful of unintended acceleration these days, Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday in an update on its ramped-up safety efforts.
The Japanese automaker, still working to recover from a rash of safety recalls, reported that the amount of customers voicing concern over acceleration problems has dropped 80 percent since April.
“Toyota has made significant progress in recent months to help ensure that our customers can have complete confidence in the quality, safety and reliability of their vehicles, and our latest initiatives build on those accomplishments,” said Steve St. Angelo, Toyota’s chief quality officer.
He also pointed out that Toyota engineers, after examining 4,200 vehicles, were unable to find a single case in which an electronic throttle system glitch would lead to sudden unintended acceleration.
Overall, Toyota said it has performed more than 5 million remedies for the three recalls announced in the past year, including 1.8 million to address sticky pedals, 3.1 million to take care of mats that could trap the pedal and about 128,000 to update the antilock-brake systems in certain 2010 Prius and Lexus models.
Toyota came under fire earlier this year and faced congressional lawmakers, after mounting recalls and failing to react promptly led to stinging criticism from U.S. regulators and a record fine of more than $16.4 million.
Consumers, long accustomed to Toyota’s track record for quality, have turned on the brand in the wake of the recalls. Sales have underperformed rivals, with Toyota’s market share dropping to 15.2 percent so far this year from 16.6 percent through September 2009.
“Toyota should really be doing better by now, but these lingering effects have been a challenge,” said Nationwide Chief Economist Paul Ballew, a former sales analyst in the auto industry. “They are languishing worse than we’d thought.”