Area Toyota dealers get pep talk from top exec

(AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File) (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

April 6, 2010 4:43:44 PM PDT
Chicago-area Toyota dealers are getting a thank you and a pep talk from one of the carmaker's senior vice presidents.

Dealers across the country had to ride out the car maker's massive recall of cars. Toyota dealers are getting a vote of confidence by a top executive with the automaker.

"They did the right thing by prioritizing the customers first," said Don Esmond, senior vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Esmond says it has been a rough couple of months for the automaker because of massive recalls stemming from acceleration problems in several models. But, Esmond says, it seems Toyota is turning a corner, largely because the dealers have reassured their customers and made speedy repairs to their cars.

"Toyota is standing by its cars and trucks, and we're grateful that our customers are standing by Toyota," said Esmond.

Toyota offered incentives which led to surge in sales in March. The automaker even outpaced its competitors.

It was a comforting turnaround for dealers who saw their sales fall in February.

"The first month it was very tough when the recall came out, but then we were able with these incentives to have a good month," said Caroline Grossinger, Toyota auto dealer.

But there are still challenges ahead for Toyota.

Federal officials announced they will seek the maximum penalty of $16 million against the automaker for failing to notify the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of a sticky pedal defect for four months after it was discovered by Toyota.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was in Chicago Tuesday, where he said he wouldn't be surprised if a review of documents from Toyota uncovered additional safety lapses at the Japanese automaker.

"They have violated the law, and we are absolutely not gonna stand for that kind of behavior for one second," said LaHood.

In the meantime, Toyota plans to install a brake override system, which is already installed in the Prius and other hybrid models, in all Toyota models by 2011. It is meant to further emphasize what it calls the automaker's commitment to safety.