Maine Toyota dealers hopeful despite recall

By Nick Sambides Jr., BDN Staff
Posted Jan. 27, 2010, at 9:49 p.m.

Toyota’s decision to recall and halt sales of vehicles for possibly faulty accelerator pedals could send its dealers scampering for cover, but Kevin Kelly, general manager at Down East Toyota of Brewer, sees it paying off in the long run.

In an unprecedented move, the company said late Tuesday it would halt sales for eight models — which make up more than half of Toyota’s U.S. sales volume — to fix the gas pedals. Last week, Toyota issued a recall for the same eight models, affecting 2.3 million vehicles.

“They base a lot of their sales and marketing on their safety, reliability and reputation, and by voluntarily calling these things back because of a very few instances, they are standing behind their claims, their reputation, and the fact that they produce great, reliable cars,” Kelly said Wednesday.

“Whether you sell services, widgets or whatever, you sell on your reputation,” he added. “By voluntarily calling back these vehicles, they are upholding their strong reputation in the market and saying, ‘We are taking care of our customers by doing this.’ I would expect that people would say, ‘Wow, they are really stepping tall on this deal.’”

Maine’s eight Toyota dealerships complied Wednesday with Toyota’s decision to halt sales of the eight models under recall for faulty accelerator pedals — a decision that National Highway Safety Administration officials said Toyota was legally required to make.

Toyota said Tuesday it was halting production at six North American assembly plants and stopping sales of the models in the U.S. and Canada until it finds a fix. As of Wednesday, no fix was announced.

The recall left the Maine dealerships with as much as half their sales inventories depleted, although Toyota offers more than 18 models, depending on how models are classified.

Shepard Toyota of Rockland still has 70 percent of its inventory, sales manager John Carter said. York Toyota of Houlton has half of its inventory remaining, co-owner Jerry York said. Emerson Toyota of Auburn reported 55 of its 150-vehicle inventory pulled from the lot.

Down East was down about a quarter of its 200 vehicles, Kelly said.

Yet the overall picture of the recall as portrayed in news media accounts is misleading, Carter said.

The recall applies only to vehicles equipped with pedals supplied by CTS Corp. of Indiana and built in the supplier’s Canadian factory, he said. That completely knocks out half the models on the recall or sales suspension list: the Avalon large sedan, 2005-10 models; Matrix hatchback, 2009-10; Tundra pickup, 2007-10; and the Sequoia large SUV, 2008-10.

But the rest of the stop-sale list — the Corolla, 2009-10; Camry, 2007-10; Highlander crossover, 2010; and RAV4, 2009-10 — is safe and available, if the vehicles were made in Japan or otherwise without CTS pedals, Kelly said.

“The recall affects only a very small percentage of all the Toyotas that could be affected,” York said.

“I have RAVs I can sell, and Camrys,” said Vinnie Goulette, general sales manager at Emerson. “There are a lot of these vehicles still out there, and they’re fine.”

Confusion has led to the dealerships getting calls from customers wondering whether their vehicles are on the recall list, York said.

“People just want to be assured that they don’t have a problem with their car. They want more information and there will be more information forthcoming,” Kelly said.

Customers can call their local Toyota dealers or a national Toyota line, 800-331-4331, for information. If they have a vehicle with an accelerator problem, local dealers will likely pick up the car for them.

None of the Toyota dealers interviewed Wednesday reported having seen vehicles with stuck accelerator pedals.

Kelly regards the recall as positive, but the other dealers weren’t sure. Toyota lost $7.1 billion last year, its first reported annual loss of income in the company’s history. The recall could hamper Toyota’s ability to return to profitability through increased sales and hurt the company’s reputation as a producer of reliable vehicles.

“It is certainly negative right now because some of these vehicles can’t be sold,” York said. “The only potential upside to all this is if Toyota comes up with a fix and addresses it quickly. So far they haven’t done that.”

“It’s too early to say. We hope it doesn’t have an impact,” Carter said. “A lot of dealers probably wouldn’t have reacted this quickly. They [Toyota officials] are reacting on the side of caution and are the first ones to fix the problem, and that’s good.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2010/01/27/business/maine-toyota-dealers-hopeful-despite-recall/ printed on July 31, 2014