Americans confused, but still driving their Toyotas

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter


NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Some Toyota customers are swearing off the brand, while others aren't much worried about sticky gas pedals. For just about everybody, confusion reigns.

Toyota first announced its massive recall last week, which followed one last November. Both involve issues with gas pedals in millions of Toyota's most popular models.

Toyota owners are still waiting for a coherent story about what is actually going on, said Sylvia Marino, executive director at auto sales site Edmunds.com.

"People are feeling a cross between shock, concern and disbelief," she said. "There's a huge amount of confusion. People are saying, 'I think I own a car affected by a recall but I'm not sure,' and it's going to take time for owners to get an official recall notice from their dealer."

Even local dealerships don't have the answers customers are looking for.

Bobby Moore, service director at Atlanta Toyota, said his dealership has received a large volume of phone calls from customers wondering if their particular car is affected by the recall, what Toyota is doing to solve the problem and when the issue will be fixed.

He said people seem to be feeling a combination of confusion and frustration, and while the dealership has been able to answer most of their questions, there are still a lot of holes.

A Toyota spokesman has said that the carmaker is very close to announcing a solution to the sticking gas pedal issue for cars.

Still cruising: While the phones may be ringing off the hook at dealerships, many Toyota owners are not all that worried, said James Bell, vice president at Kelley Blue Book.

"Sure you're going to see the reports of people running to Toyota stores and throwing the keys at the dealer," he said. "But I think the general sense is that while this is a problem, we're not going to all of a sudden see speeding Toyotas left and right on the freeway."

Matt Schoder of Sandusky, Ohio said he and his wife are still driving their 2007 and 2010 Camrys -- both of which are covered under the recall -- without concern.

"This could happen to any brand, and it has," he said. "They will come out stronger in the end. Good companies -- and people -- learn from their mistakes."

Matt Fitterer, from Spokane, Wash., said he isn't worried about the recall either and that he will continue to drive his 2009 Toyota Corolla.

"My reaction was that it's not a big deal, the brand itself is very reliable so I know they'll find a fix," said Fitterer. "And if I get pulled over by a cop, I'll just tell them my gas pedal got stuck!"

Slamming the brakes: Other Toyota owners who are more concerned may continue driving their cars because they have no other choice. But when it's time to buy a new vehicle, spending money on another Toyota will be out of the question.

Marino said that of the customers currently in the market for a new car and considering a Toyota, about half of these people may delay purchasing a vehicle until more is learned about the recall.

A third to a quarter of those people considering Toyotas will likely switch to other manufacturers, as indicated by comments such as the post one Toyota owner wrote in an Edmunds.com forum:

"I will NEVER, EVER purchase another Toyota in my life. Toyota has gotten too big, too fast and they're quality has gone down hill."

Taking the GM bait: After Toyota announced its most recent recall, General Motors pounced on the opportunity to take advantage of its competitor's fumble, offering incentives of $1,000 and low financing rates to Toyota customers who have had their vehicles recalled.

Bell said that over the last quarter, Kelley Blue Book has been tracking the number of people visiting its site who identify themselves as Toyota owners but who also view GM vehicles, as well as the number of GM owners who shop around for Toyotas.

The data collected so far shows that GM owners are more likely to also view Toyota vehicles, whereas Toyota customers hardly ever look for GM products.

GM's incentive program could therefore be a great way to attract those Toyota owners who may not have considered GM's lineup before the recall, said Bell.

"It'll make people take pause and say, 'let's go have a sniff and see what they're like,'" he said.

Jeff Morris, a salesman at Jim Crivelli Chevrolet, a GM dealer in Pennsylvania, said that while Thursday was the first day the incentives were offered, the new deals are already attracting customers.

"It seems like a lot of people are in a kind of a state of panic about their Toyota products," he said. "We've already seen interest, so I think [the incentive program] is really going to help business." To top of page

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