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TEXT OF INTERVIEW
Tess Vigeland: Today Toyota announced a fix for the faulty accelerator mechanism that forced it to recall millions of vehicles in the last couple of weeks. The logistics of repairing all those gas pedals are mind-numbing. But beyond questions of how it’s all going to happen are concerns about why it happened, and why it took so long to get a fix in place. Marketplace’s Alisa Roth covers the auto industry, and she joins us from our bureau in New York. Hi Alisa.
ALISA ROTH: Hello.
Vigeland: So Toyota says it’s sending out parts to dealers this week, but we’ve got 2.3 million vehicles that need this repair. How on earth is this going to work?
ROTH: Well, the fix supposedly only takes about half-an-hour to do. I talked to John McEleney today, he’s a Toyota dealer in Iowa. He’s also the chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association. He says he’s going to have six mechanics doing nothing but this fix.
John McEleney: We’ll probably start an hour earlier in the morning or an hour late in the afternoon. We already are open Saturdays, and it’s a fairly simple fix, so I think we can do several dozen a day.
ROTH: Now he still doesn’t know exactly how many vehicles his dealership is going to be responsible for, but he’s guessing that at this rate it’ll take him a couple of weeks to get through them all.
Vigeland: Wow. You know it seems like there’s still an enormous amount of confusion over this recall. And Toyota is certainly not getting very high marks for its handling of all this, are they?
ROTH: Well, I’m not defending Toyota here, and I think it’s probably way too soon to say with any authority when Toyota knew what was going on, or whether it should have responded sooner. One of the problems the company is up against is how do you say when something is really a problem. I mean if Toyota gets three complaints of unintended acceleration over a couple of years, how is the company supposed to know if the pedal really stuck, or if the driver messed up somehow, or what’s really going on.
Vigeland: Well, of course, there’s all kinds of questions now about the Toyota brand, what this recall is going to mean for a company that by and large managed to avoid spectacle for decades.
ROTH: You know, there’s been a lot of criticism even before this latest mess that Toyota had been putting quantity over quality. So basically focusing so much on the race to be the world’s top automaker that it stopped paying attention to those details that made it Toyota. At the same time, though, Toyota does have this really rock solid reputation for quality. And one person I talked to said he thought if Toyota handles this incident well, it could actually be relegated to the history books within a year.
Vigeland: I wonder what we hear, if anything, about plans that the company does have to really retrieve this image of reliability. If this lasts longer than they thought it would, what can they do?
ROTH: I think they started by getting Toyota really out there, as much as they could. I don’t know if you saw the Today Show this morning or CNBC, the head of Toyota USA was all over the news this morning. And the PR people I talked to today said that was a really good start. One of the people I talked to is a man named David…, he’s been doing public relations for auto companies for years. And he said he’d actually like to see that expanded a bit.
DAVID: I would hope that there would also be other experts, people from automotive magazines and consumer groups that could put all of this in perspective.
ROTH: And I talked to somebody else who said some visuals would actually be really useful, things like a YouTube video showing a mechanic actually doing the fix, or some really clear diagrams of what’s going to happen to your car.
Vigeland: You know, Alisa, for consumers I wonder what this potentially means for resale value for all of Toyota’s brands. Is there any talk about that?
ROTH: There’s actually been some talk. One of the big auction houses that deal with auto resale said that they were suspending sales of the recalled Toyotas, so this could be a real issue for drivers. I think it’ll depend in part on how well this fix actually works.
Vigeland: Marketplace’s Alisa Roth talking with us from our New York bureau. Thanks so much.
ROTH: You’re welcome.