Final Inspection

Toyota’s Long Ride Home

Toyota says it has a fix for faulty gas pedals in millions of its recalled vehicles, as well a solution for cars still in production. That’s the good news.

The auto maker halted sales and manufacturing of eight of its most popular models in the U.S. last week as the crisis grew over unintended acceleration.

What won’t be so easy is fixing “Teflon” Toyota’s tarnished reputation. That’s the bad news.

From all accounts, the issue is not just about stretching its reach too far too fast, as it aimed at overtaking GM as the world’s largest auto maker. Nor is it just about integrating new suppliers outside of its trusted keiretsu system.

What’s really at issue is Toyota’s lengthy stall on dealing with vehicle failure after decades of building its reputation on quality and reliability. Consumer complaints reportedly go back years, not months.

And counter to the auto maker’s new marketing blitz that it’s taken a temporary time out on sales and production of recalled models, “because it was the right thing to do for our customers,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told a Chicago radio station last week Toyota halted sales “because we asked them to.”

Recalls are common in the auto industry, but a lapse in accountability regarding safety is not easily forgiven by the public.

What did Toyota know about its faulty gas-pedal problem and when did it know it now will become the mantra of Congressional hearings and class-action lawsuits, as well as the subject of many more investigations.

“I know that we’ve let you down,” Jim Lentz, president of Toyota’s U.S. sales arm, says to consumers in a video posted on its website. “I hope you give us a chance to earn back your trust.”

That’s a start, but the road to recovery is going to be a long and arduous journey.

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