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Toyota’s woes filter down to dealer

Marketplace Staff Feb 4, 2010

Toyota’s woes filter down to dealer

Marketplace Staff Feb 4, 2010

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified one of the auto companies that received government help. It is Chrysler that received government aid, not Ford. The script has been updated.


Kai Ryssdal: On the Toyota story today, there were some new developments. American safety regulators have opened a formal investigation into problems with the brakes on Priuses, that is, of course, the world’s best-selling hybrid. So far the company hasn’t stopped selling them, as it has eight other models with faulty gas pedals.

But further down the corporate ladder Toyota dealers — the ones stuck with all that inventory hanging around not making money — they’re also having to fix the cars that customers are bringing in. And Brett Neely reports from a Toyota dealership in Silver Spring, Md., that they are not exactly having the times of their lives.

BRETT NEELY: The showroom of the DARCARS Toyota had no customers earlier today. But the back office of this D.C.-area dealership looked like a war room. Takeout boxes littered the place and newspaper clippings about Toyota were tacked to the wall. Further back, in the service center, mechanics replaced defective gas pedals.

MECHANIC: After you install the bolts, you connect the connector, remove the electrical tape and make sure the pedal’s functioning properly after the bolts are in and tight.

Toyota has recalled more than seven million cars. Today the car maker said the recalls could cost it 100,000 sales this year. For dealers like DARCARS, that’s a big hit.

Tammy Darvish heads up sales here and has been working 18-hour days. She says customers haven’t given up on Toyota.

TAMMY DARVISH: Everyone that we’ve spoken to, I’ve not had one tell me, I refuse to drive my car anymore, or I don’t want this car, help me get out of it or anything like that.

But a few steps away in the service center, some Toyota owners like Desiree Payne were rattled. She isn’t planning to get rid of her car, but she’s not sure she’ll ever buy a Toyota again.

DESIREE PAYNE: I would definitely have second thoughts.

Back in the empty showroom, the sales staff looked nervous. They said business has cratered since the recalls.

One salesman blamed the government for helping Toyota’s competitors, General Motors and Chrysler. Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said owners of the recalled models should stop driving them. Then he backtracked.

Salesman Brian Thompson.

BRIAN THOMPSON: Government is a majority owner in GM. You don’t think they need to sell their product? Why are their sales up 12 percent from last year? C’mon now. This is nothing more than the government pushing people around.

I asked sales chief Tammy Darvish if the dealership would offer incentives to customers. Toyota traditionally offers fewer and sells cars on the basis of higher prices for higher quality.

DARVISH: No, there is no reason for us to incentivize because of a recall.

Darvish is convinced these problems will get fixed and go away.

In Silver Spring, Md., I’m Brett Neely for Marketplace.

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