Toyota execs say automaker moving past sudden acceleration woes

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Las Vegas – Toyota Motor Corp. officials said Monday the company’s recent sales have not been hurt by the government’s recent record-breaking fine for delaying a recall or a $1.1 billion civil settlement.

“We believe we’ve turned the page,” said Bob Carter, senior vice president for automotive operations at Toyota Motor Sales USA in an interview at the 2013 International CES technology show. “There will always be some litigation — all major corporations have that — but with the settlement and the latest fine, we’ve turned the page and are moving on.”

In December, Toyota agreed to pay $17.35 million in fines to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration after the government said it delayed the recall of 154,000 2010 Lexus SUVs.

Toyota’s sales were up 26 percent for all of 2012, in part on stronger inventory after supply problems in 2011 stemming from natural disasters in Asia.

Lexus had its strongest single month in December and for the first time since 2007 it had sold more than 30,000 vehicles, said Mark Templin, who is general manager of the Lexus brand.

“All of the issues we’ve faced over the last four years are behind us now and we’re ready to move forward,” Templin said in a separate interview. “We’re onto a different world now and we feel really good about the future.”

Lexus sold 244,000 vehicles in 2012, up 23 percent. That was ahead of its plan to sell 240,000, Templin said. “We see good, steady growth over the next several years,” Templin said.

Lexus hasn’t set a target for 2013 sales.

Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said “consumers are way, way past” the publicity over the company’s recall of 14 million vehicles worldwide in 2009 and 2010 for pedal entrapment and sticky pedals that were linked to claims of sudden acceleration.

A federal judge in California last month gave tentative approval to a settlement of claims stemming from the sudden acceleration recalls over lost residual value. Toyota has also agreed to add safety features and extend warranties on millions of vehicles as part of the civil settlement worth up to $1.4 billion.

Michels said Toyota sees the settlement “as a victory because the plaintiffs cannot prove any sort of electronic defects… We proved what we set out to do and just move on.”

The settlement includes up to $500 million for owners of Toyota and Lexus vehicles and $600 million in customer support programs.

“We’d rather give it our customers than fight that battle for a long time,” Templin said.

Separately, Carter said Toyota is considering boosting its 2013 U.S. auto industry sales forecast of 14.7 million. “We’re bullish on where the market’s going,” he said.

Carter also confirmed that the new concept Toyota will show at the North American International Auto Show will be the basis — at least in part — for the new Corolla, which is Toyota’s best-selling car worldwide and second best in the United States behind the Camry.

“You’ll see the concept of the Corolla,” Carter said, saying it will have “some of the elements” of what the new Corolla will look like. “We’re looking at styling of the vehicle in a way for the youth of today,” Carter said. “Corolla has always been a youth car.”

The current Corolla is six years old, but was still up nearly 30 percent in 2012. Toyota will also show off its new Lexus IS.

Templin said the new IS will go on sale in late spring. It has more interior room with a longer wheelbase and new advanced electronics and safety features.

Toyota plans 9 new vehicle launches for 2013 — including five for its Toyota brand, one for Scion and three for Lexus, Carter said — after 12 new or refreshed models in 2012.

Carter said Toyota’s presence at the Super Bowl is the same as 2012: Three or four sports including pre- and post-games, including one for Lexus. “If you want to announce a product, there’s no better place than the Super Bowl,” Carter said.

dshepardson@detnews.com

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