Accelerators make it hard for Toyota to stop criticism

Thanks to accelerator defects, the formerly reliable Toyota now must deal with an identity crisis.
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According to a Toyota driver from Baltimore, “It’s like playing Russian roulette every time I press my brake pedal.”

Or at least that’s what he claimed on his Twitter account. Skylark2307 tweeted that comment on the morning of Mar. 22, expressing the same negative reaction to Toyota’s problem with sticking accelerators that others share on Toyota’s official Facebook fan page.

Sam Johnson is one of 87,103 fans of Toyota USA on Facebook and said “Don’t buy these cars, your gas pedal is gonna stick and you’re gonna wreck. Get something American.”

Perception has never been something Toyota has struggled with. General Motors suffered through the recession, resulting in thousands of jobs cut and eventual bankruptcy. Meanwhile Toyota became the world’s leading vehicle manufacturer.

In November 2007, author David Magee wrote the book “How Toyota Became #1”. Magee, a columnist and talk radio host, has since changed his tune greatly, though.

He went from praising Toyota’s innovative thinking in his book, which included a chapter titled “Pursue Perfection Relentlessly”, to criticizing the company’s short-sightedness.

Magee said on Feb. 17 as a guest on Fox Business News, “Toyota went too far, too fast. They focused on being big when for 50 years they focused on quality.”

Public perception is not something that Toyota dealerships can manage. But according to Dave Leduchowski, the general manager at Sunshine Toyota in Winnipeg, it’s not their concern either.

“Any negativity is beyond our control (as a dealership). All we can do is prove to customers that Toyota still makes a great car and that any problems have been dealt with.”

Leduchowski said via email that sales were negatively affected when news of the Toyota recalls first became public in early February 2010, but business at his dealership is picking up again as of late.

“(Toyota) has done a great job in proving to people that the vehicles are safe,” said Leduchowski. “They’ve done things like ride-in drives with media to test them. The advertising has been very effective, too.”

Blair Ritchot, the shop foreman at Mister Transmission on Pembina Highway, has seen the underside of enough cars to know quality when he sees it. He acknowledges that Toyota’s accelerator issues are extremely unusual, but he wouldn’t hesitate to buy one.

“We probably fix less Toyotas than any other car. Their issues wouldn’t stop me from getting one,” said Ritchot.

But Ritchot's customers tend to focus more on the problem, he says.

“I think people are pissed off by it all. (At Mister Transmission) we’ve had quite a few Toyota customers that say they’ll never buy another one.”

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Kalen Qually of Red River College

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