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US Clears Toyota Gas Pedal Fix, Parts to Dealers This Week

Tom Krisher, Ken Thomas and CNBC
Sunday, 31 Jan 2010 | 6:59 PM ET
Toyota
AP
Toyota

Federal regulators have cleared Toyota's plan to fix millions of sticky gas pedals, and dealers could get parts to make the repairs as early as Thursday or Friday, people briefed on the matter told AP on Saturday and CNBC has confirmed.

Two dealers said they were told the news by Toyota executives, and a Department of Transportation official confirmed that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had no objections to Toyota's plans.

Toyota plans to announce details early Monday, according to the dealers, who asked not to be identified because the fix had not been made public. The DOT official also requested anonymity because the announcement had not been made.

Telephone messages left with three Toyota spokesmen Saturday were not immediately returned.

Toyota has recalled 4.2 million vehicles worldwide because the gas pedal systems can get stuck. The company said the problem is rare and is caused by condensation that builds up in the gas pedal assembly.

Several dealers have said the fix involves slipping a shim into an area where springs push the gas pedal back to its resting position after a driver has eased off the gas, but Toyota has not commented on the repair.

Dealers have been in the difficult position of having no parts to fix the cars ever since the recall was announced on Jan. 21.

The recall in the U.S. covers 2.3 million vehicles and involves the 2009-10 RAV4 crossover, the 2009-10 Corolla, the 2009-10 Matrix hatchback, the 2005-10 Avalon, the 2007-10 Camry, the 2010 Highlander crossover, the 2007-10 Tundra pickup and the 2008-10 Sequoia SUV. The recall has been expanded to models in Europe and China.

Toyota said that not all the models listed in the recall have the faulty gas pedals, which were made by CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind. Dealers can tell which models have the CTS pedals. Models made in Japan, and some models built in the U.S., have pedal systems made by another parts supplier, Denso Corp., which function well.

"They've got a fix and it's been approved by NHTSA," said one of the dealers who was happy that parts would be coming soon.

Toyota announced late Friday that it would begin shipping new gas pedal systems to dealers as well.

Legally Toyota did not need NHTSA's approval for the fix, but the company submitted the plan to the government agency on Thursday, and it would be unlikely to proceed without the government's blessing.

Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla., said Saturday he had not been notified of the fix by Toyota. But he's happy to be able to tell customers that he'll soon be getting parts, ending a frustrating week with little information to give them.

"There's light at the end of the tunnel if that's the thing to get this thing behind us," he said. "That's wonderful news for everybody."

Stewart said he would put his service department on duty 24 hours a day if necessary and if he gets enough parts to fix all the cars for his customers.

Toyota has said it is working as quickly as possible to come up with repairs for the cars. A spokesman said Friday that details will be released sometime next week about how it intends to solve the problem.

On Friday, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda made his first public comments about the recall. At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, he told Japanese broadcaster NHK: "I am very sorry that we are making our customers feel concerned."

"People can feel safe driving in the current situation," he added. "Please trust that we are responding so it will be even safer."

Toyota told employees in an e-mail it is buying full-page ads Sunday in 20 major newspapers to reassure customers.

Meanwhile, Consumer Reports, an influential publication for car buyers, on Friday suspended its "recommended" status for the eight recalled Toyota models.

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