Safety to take center stage at auto show

February 12, 2010 5:46:57 AM PST
The auto industry hopes to rev up business with this year's Chicago Auto Show which opens Friday at McCormick Place. This year, a string of new recalls has placed safety at center stage and places Japanese automakers on the hot seat.

"We're committed to showing our owners that toyota stands behind them and our vehicles," said Bob Carter, Toyota division vice president.

Toyota says it thought about cancelling the debut of the carmaker's re-designed flagship vehicle but the show must go on.

So there was soaring imagery but Toyota could not help but be grounded by word that now its investigating steering issues with the Corolla and Camry. That's on top of plans to recall nearly 440,000 2010 Prius cars and other hybrids due to a braking glitch.

Since last November the world's number one automaker has recalled nearly 8.5 million vehicles for faults that include floor mats that can entangle gas pedals, and accelerators that can stick.

"We have lot of cars to repair, 50,000 a day that we ticketing to get through repairs. Once we get the customers repaired and get them back on the road, then we will do what we need to do as a brand," said Carter.

Next door at Honda, they wanted to highlight the next generation Odyssey van.

Still, executives were forced to confront an expansion of an air bag recall to the popular Accord and Civic sedans. Nearly one million of them have to repaired because they can deploy too fast and kill the people they're supposed to protect.

"Recalls are not totally uncommon, and so we're going to continue to dedicate ourselves to building the best, safest vehicles possible," said Kurt Antonius, Honda vice president.

The steady trickle of bad news has depressed Toyota's resale value -- 1.5 percent Wednesday, on top of a 1.3 percent drop last week, according to Kelley Blue Book.

But auto shows are about showing what's new and exciting and even discounting for the world's biggest car company's troubles, an industry leader in measuring the best values in vehicle ownership has Toyota taking home 10 of 28 Intellichoice Awards.

North American manufacturers are determined to show their quality is now just as good as the Japanese and not just because the competition is in trouble.

"The response is positive and it has been nice. I get a charge out of it, not to make a joke," said President Mark Reuss, General Motors North America.

It's the kind of optimism carmakers hope wins the day at a sensitive time for an industry struggling to draw customers back to showrooms after a brutal downturn.