Sunday, March 7, 2010

Toyota owners having doubts

Toyota has lost its halo.
The Asian automaker's massive recall of cars due to acceleration problems not only hurts the company's once-stellar image, but it also could have a huge impact on what car buyers consider when making purchases for years to come.

"It makes people more aware of quality and safety as an issue, and they're going to be paying more attention to those things across the industry," said Dave Sargent, vice president of automotive research with J.D. Power and Associates consultants in Troy, Mich.

"In short, Toyota's just another carmaker now, which is great news for Nissan, Honda and GM and Ford," said Eric Noble, president of The CarLab, a design consultant in Orange, Calif. "The best that Toyota can hope for is that another major manufacturer suffers a major safety recall very soon."

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Nashville-area Toyota owners are split between loyalty to Toyota because of past good experiences and fears about the near-daily headlines of safety concerns, accidents and corporate stonewalling.

Kevin Young bought a 2009 Toyota Camry last May, expecting to drive it a lot on trips as he planned for retirement. Instead, the Old Hickory resident and his wife have logged only 2,000 miles, mostly during a Thanksgiving trip to Virginia.

Young said he doubts the company has completely fixed its gas pedal and safety problems.

"For (my wife) to drive it in traffic makes me nervous because she won't have time to react to something even if she knew how to react," said Young, a retired forklift driver. He and his wife, Debra, chose the Camry because it had the most comfortable ride among vehicles they considered.

But how the automaker has handled its string of U.S. recalls has left the couple with a sour taste.

"For a long time, Toyota's been a name that stood for quality," Young said.

"If they ever want to stand for quality again, they're going to have to make all the customers this affects happy."

Ralph L. Murray was driving to church a week ago when his Lexus ES350 surged after he'd taken his foot off the accelerator. He immediately stepped on the brakes to avoid hitting a wall. It's a method that the Hendersonville retiree learned shortly after buying the car in May 2007 when he noticed the car tended to surge once he'd let up on the accelerator.

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