Toyota Motor Corp. has fixed about 3 million U.S. autos for flaws linked to unintended acceleration and is rethinking how it explains new features to rebound from a recall crisis, the company’s regional quality chief said.
Since becoming Toyota’s first chief quality officer for North America in March Steve St. Angelo has set up teams of engineers to investigate complaints about Toyota models and is overseeing repairs of recalled vehicles. Mechanics have fixed sticky accelerators on 1.5 million vehicles and 1.3 million autos for floor mats that could jam the gas pedal, as well as adjusting brake software on 110,000 Priuses, he said.
“We’re getting them fixed as fast as we can,” St. Angelo, who is also executive vice president for North American production, said in an interview this week. “We’ve investigated over 500 concerns, and resolved about 2,000 different issues.”
Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, has recalled more than 8 million cars and trucks worldwide since November and faced congressional hearings over its handling of defects. To address concerns about quality, the Toyota City, Japan-based automaker created St. Angelo’s internal task force and a group of outside advisers led by former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.
The company last month agreed to a record $16.4 million fine assessed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for failing to promptly report problems with accelerator pedals supplied by CTS Corp.
Along with reviewing potentially defective components, St. Angelo said his group will find ways to improve communications among Toyota engineering teams in the U.S., Japan and other regions. “If there’s an issue, I can take it directly” to Toyota President Akio Toyoda, he said.
Some complaints U.S. engineers reviewed recently resulted from customers’ unfamiliarity with features such as a radar cruise control that automatically adjusts speed based on traffic conditions, St. Angelo said.
“We really need to improve communication and education to our customers,” he said. “As our cars become more sophisticated, people are not as familiar with how they work.”
Toyota also boosted the number of devices in the U.S. able to read information on a vehicle’s electronic data recorder, from one in January to 150 currently, St. Angelo said. Members of Congress criticized the company for having so few of the devices that can provide a vehicle’s speed and other details at the time of a crash.
Of those devices, 10 were given to the NHTSA for use by its investigators, St. Angelo said.
Toyota’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California.