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Feb. 3 2010 — 2:51 pm | 99 views | 0 recommendations | 4 comments

Toyota sales at lowest point since 1998

Toyota is certainly down but, at least for now, not quite out.  Despite having to idle factories and suspend sales of eight of its top selling models due to complaints of unintended acceleration, the Japanese auto giant has not seen the cataclysmic drop in sales some expected.

Toyota Motor Corp. sales fell to a level not seen since 1998 last month amid a dramatic realignment of automakers in the U.S. market that saw Ford Motor Co. reclaim the No. 2 spot and Chrysler Group LLC drop to No. 6.

General Motors Co. remained the nation’s largest automaker, with sales up 14.1 percent, and claimed 21 percent of the market, up from 19.5 percent in January 2009.

But even as sales increased 6.3 percent industrywide from a year ago, with much of that coming from fleet sales, demand for Toyota products, including Lexus and Scion models, fell 15.8 percent for the same period.

(via The Detroit News)

Excluding the sale of Lexus and Scion vehicles (models which have, so far, not been affected by the gas pedal recall announced on January 21, 2010) Toyota sales plunged 18.8 percent.  While that news is bad enough, it’s a far cry from the doomsday reports from some analysts that Toyota sales would drop by as much as 75 percent.

Other car makers are seeking to take advantage of Toyota’s current weakness, by offering cash back and rebates to any customer trading in a Toyota vehicle (even those vehicles not subject to the recall).  General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Hyundai are now offering up to $1000 worth of incentives to lure Toyota owners.

Feb. 3 2010 — 2:35 pm | 1,956 views | 0 recommendations | 2 comments

The biggest recall ever – and no, it’s not Toyota

LOS ANGELES - APRIL 24:  (FILE) The Sun shines...

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At approximately 9 million vehicles (and counting), the Toyota recall to correct complaints of unintended acceleration is getting worse every day.  Confusingly, this is actually a combination of two separate recalls:  one to replace floor mats which could jam the gas pedal (announced November 25, 2009), and another to correct a mechanical part in the pedal assembly itself (January 21, 2010).

More and more vehicles are being added to the recall list and, if you own a Toyota, Lexus, or Scion vehicle, it’s a good idea to keep updated via www.toyota.com/recall, or call the service department of your local Toyota dealership.  Provide the the make and model year of your car – along with the VIN, a 17-digit number which can be found at the base of the windshield – to see if your vehicle is part of the recall.

Toyota’s problems are mounting but, believe it or not, the Japanese auto giant is still well short of the largest automotive recall ever.  That dubious honor goes to Ford Motor Company, which recalled more than 14 million vehicles to correct a faulty cruise control switch.  This switch could overheat and lead to a fire, even when the car is not running.

Addressing concerns over fires, Ford is conducting a recall of 4.5 million vehicles in the United States equipped with speed control deactivation switches from Texas Instruments. The switches have already been the subject of six recalls.

Recalls began in 1999 and covered some 10 million Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles from 1992 to 2004.

This means that more than 14 million Ford vehicles have been recalled for this problem, a record number for a single problem, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The earlier recalls involved the Texas Instruments cruise-control deactivation switch, which was powered at all times and could develop a short circuit. That could cause a vehicle to catch fire even while it was parked and the ignition was off.

(via The New York Times)

Knowing it remains roughly 5 million vehicles short of a recall record is likely to be no source of comfort for Toyota.  Plummeting share prices, shuttered factories and idled dealerships – not to mention a reputation for quality and dependability that might never return – could signal a seismic change in the automotive landscape.

Feb. 3 2010 — 2:01 pm | 114 views | 0 recommendations | 0 comments

LaHood hits the brakes on comment to Toyota owners

A Toyota prius hybrid car is dispayed in a sho...

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The continuing saga that is the Toyota recall continues to change day by day and, seemingly, hour by hour.  In an interview with the Associated Press, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood termed the Japanese auto giant as “safety deaf” and urged Toyota owners affected by the unintended acceleration recall not to drive their cars.

Not surprisingly, Toyota stock went into free-fall – along with the few remaining shreds of the auto maker’s much vaunted reputation for reliability.  According to a report in The New York Times, LaHood and the Department of Transportation are now backing away from those comments.

Apparently, the advice was not to stop driving…but to head to the nearest Toyota dealer for a fix.

The Transportation Department scrambled on Wednesday to keep up the pressure on Toyota, with the agency’s head at one point telling owners of recalled vehicles to stop driving them.

But the department head, Ray LaHood, later tried to clarify what he called “obviously a misstatement,” saying that he meant only to urge Toyota owners concerned about their cars to take them in to dealerships.

(via The New York Times)

Unfortunately for the 2.3 million Toyota owners affected by the recall to fix faulty accelerator pedals, the fix could be a long time coming.  Letters are being sent to owners this week, but delays in getting the parts (and the necessary time needed to train dealership service departments how to fix the pedals) could take weeks and, possibly, months to complete.

This doesn’t even take into consideration the ongoing recall of more than 4 million Toyota vehicles which are due replacement floor mats.   That recall, announced November 25, 2009, was in response to reports that the design of the floor mat could lead to it jamming the gas pedal under acceleration.  Apparently, Toyota knew of the problem as early as 2007.

Even the darling of Toyota’s lineup, the Prius hybrid, is no longer immune to the controversy.  Complaints are starting to build about the Prius  (and other Toyota vehicles) which were not included in the official recall.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has received at least 96 complaints involving the brakes or surging in the new Prius, according to a review by the Free Press. Two involved crashes resulting in two injuries.

Japan’s transport ministry said today it has also received 14 complaints since July last year about brake problems with Toyota’s new Prius hybrid.

The redesigned Prius that went on sale last year is not part of the pedal recall involving 2.3 million vehicles.

(via The Detroit Free Press)

Feb. 3 2010 — 12:09 pm | 96 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Toyota shares plummet as owners told to park their cars by U.S. Transportation Secretary LaHood

WHITTIER, CA - JULY 23:  New Toyota cars and t...

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Just when Toyota thought its recall woes couldn’t get any worse, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has advised all Toyota owners affected by the unintended acceleration recall to stop driving their cars.

The result – other than emptier car pool lanes and a lot of nervous Toyota owners – is a battered reputation for quality, and a stock price that is now falling off a cliff.

NEW YORK— Toyota Motor Corp. shares sank rapidly after U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood advised in congressional testimony that people stop driving any cars involved in the Toyota recall.

Testifying before the House appropriations committee, Mr. LaHood was asked what advice he would give to owners of Toyotas subject to the recall. “My advice is, if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it, take it to the Toyota dealer because they believe they have the fix for it,” Mr. LaHood said.

Toyota shares, which were already lower on the day, sped up their declines, falling 7.8% to $72.06 in recent trading after earlier dropping as low as $71.90. The stock had been hovering closer to $75 after the opening bell but promptly started falling at about 10:30 a.m. EST. Since the recalls were announced, Toyota shares have declined 20%, wiping out more than $30 billion in market capitalization.

(via The Wall Street Journal)

Jan. 26 2010 — 1:51 pm | 26 views | 0 recommendations | 1 comment

Saab saved from liquidation

PASADENA, CA - JUNE 16:  Flowers are reflected...

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Good news has been in short supply at General Motors the past year.  Petty cash in the corporate coffers has been even rarer.  But news that G.M. has sold its Saab brand to Dutch sports car manufacturer Spyker Car N.V. looks to bring a bit of both to the American auto giant.

General Motors Co. agreed to sell its Saab unit to Dutch sports-car maker Spyker Cars NV in a deal that would save the 72-year-old Swedish brand that’s being wound down.

Spyker agreed to pay $74 million in cash and $326 million in preferred shares in the company that would emerge from the deal, according to the Dutch company. The transaction, subject to Sweden agreeing to guarantee a 400 million-euro ($563 million) European Investment Bank loan for Saab, is expected to close in February and Saab will exit an orderly wind-down process in line with the timetable.

Saab is among four brands, along with Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer, that Detroit-based GM is unloading to focus on Chevrolet, Buick, GMC and Cadillac in the U.S. after its bankruptcy exit on July 10. A sale of Saab, which GM is in the process of winding down, may save many of the 3,500 jobs at Saab’s main factory in Trollhaettan in southwestern Sweden.

(Via Bloomberg, GM Agress to Sell Saab Brand to Dutch Luxury-Car Maker Spyker)

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    I'm an automotive journalist based in New York City and a frequent contributor to The New York Times, Edmunds.com, Gaywheels.com, CarandDriver.com, Bimmer magazine and many other well-respected publications.

    I recently spent nearly 5 years in the wilds of Paris, France, where I was reporting about the European and Indian automotive world. But no matter where I am, there is always a great car story waiting to be told.

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    Now that I'm back in the U.S. - along with Matthew, my partner of 10 years - it's thrilling to get reacquainted with N.Y.C. and American car culture.

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