Toyota is seeing a rebound in sales

Toyota is seeing a rebound in sales

Toyota is seeing a rebound in sales

The disclosure by Toyota American sales operations President James Lentz, came as the federal government said it was calling in experts from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences in an effort to discover what led to the sudden acceleration problems that forced recalls of more than eight million vehicles worldwide since September.

Meanwhile, in Japan, the automaker held the first high-level meeting of executives charged with overseeing safety and promised to listen more carefully to customer complaints. Toyota recalled the vehicles to repair gas pedals that could jam or get caught in floor mats and to fix software flaws in its high-technology braking systems. The company has repaired 1.2 million of 1.9 million vehicles recalled in the US for potentially sticky pedals, Lentz said.

Reports of runaway Toyotas and criticism of the company’s slow handling of defects hurt sales, generated lawsuits and prompted Congressional hearings into the response by Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In the US, sales fell 9 per cent in February from 2009, while sales in the European Union fell 20 per cent in February from a year earlier. Toyota said last week that it would temporarily halt production in France and Britain to reduce inventory.

This last month, Toyota introduced lease deals and interest-free loans on its vehicles in the United States, apparently to a strong response. Lentz, speaking after an industry forum on the eve of the New York International Auto Show, said that sales rose 30 to 35 per cent this month, compared with 2009. Carmakers report March sales figures on Thursday. One beneficiary is the RAV4, a small sport utility vehicle. Toyota sold 22,000 in March, he said, compared with 6,500 in February, when Toyota’s incentives had not yet had a significant impact. “Maybe we overdid the incentives,” he joked.

Damage repair

Asked how long it would take before Toyota could repair damage to its brand, Lentz replied, “I don’t think it’s decades. I think it’s a matter of time.” He said the company’s biggest goal is to again convert owners of non-Toyota vehicles to the automaker, an important reason behind its growth to become the second-largest seller in the US and the world’s largest. “The challenge will be to attract conquest buyers down the road,” he said. “It’s not weeks, it’s not months, hopefully, it’s not years.” Lentz said the company welcomed efforts by scientists from NASA and specialists from the science academy to study whether electronic problems had been involved in Toyota’s instances of sudden acceleration. The effort was announced by Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary.

“The more discussion of science and facts, the better,”  Lentz said. Along with clearing its reputation, Toyota is trying to lift its bottom line after losses during the global economic crisis. The company recorded its first loss in decades in the year ended March 31, 2009, but it returned to profit in the most recent two quarters.

“Listening to consumer voices is most important in regaining credibility from our customers,”  Toyota president, Akio Toyoda, said at a news conference in Toyota City, after the quality committee meeting. “We are setting up a system to respond more quickly to complaints.”

The meeting Tuesday brought together 70 executives and officials from it’s global operations. The effort to lift quality at the company will be led by a team of chief quality officers from major regions, including North America and Europe. Toyota said it would hold global quality meetings twice a year and regional meetings more frequently. The carmaker has promised to include outside experts in evaluating quality measures. The quality committee will issue its first report in June.