The Car and Truck Fleet and Leasing Management Magazine

Commercial Fleets Take Measured Action to Toyota Recall

January 29, 2010

TORRANCE, CA - Overall, U.S. commercial fleets have been measured in their response to 2.3-million vehicle safety recall and sales/production suspension of eight Toyota models due to reports of sticking accelerator pedals causing sudden, unintended vehicle speed-up.

According to an Associated Press (AP) report today on National Public Radio, Toyota informed employees it has determined a solution to the fault accelerator problem and has presented the remedy to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Fleet reactions range from simply informing drivers of the recall and forwarding Toyota instructions to allowing drivers to rent a replacement vehicle and, in a few cases, removing an impacted Toyota model from their selectors until the issue is resolved. Some companies instruct drivers to take their vehicles immediately to a Toyota dealership for an accelerator pedal inspection.

Fleet Managers Respond

Sealed Air's corporate fleet manager, Marianne Garvey, "forwarded Toyota's instructions to drivers on how to deal with the issue." The Elmwood Park, N.J.-based company is a provider of packaging materials and systems. About 65 percent of its 650-unit fleet are Toyota models, including RAV4s, Camrys, Avalons, Siennas, and Venzas.

While the recall is a "matter of concern and safety," Garvey is waiting for the automaker to provide further details and actions. If the problem occurs, she also notes "one should be knowledgeable and rely common sense" to handle the situation.

The fleet manager of a global service organization's 2,300-vehicle fleet was also deliberative in his response to the safety recall, expressing confidence Toyota would work quickly to remedy the problem. "We are mailing our drivers instructions on what they should do if they experience the problem. This is detailed instruction that we have received from Toyota. We are not parking cars. We continue to order vehicles from Toyota as we have been assured that the sales suspension will be brief," said the fleet manager.

Impacted Toyota vehicles represented a small percentage of Panasonic's 900-plus vehicle fleet. Frank Memolo, the electronics company's fleet manager, will "encourage the drivers of those vehicles to communicate with our leasing company's maintenance department regarding recalls and if their specific vehicle is part of the recall."

The fleet manager of a national retailer commented off the record. "We have sent an e-mail to all drivers in these model vehicles to be aware of the symptoms and act accordingly. [We] attached the Toyota announcement, and frequently asked questions with answers. We have just received the Vibe announcement and although we forwarded the Toyota [message] to Vibe drivers, we will follow up sending the GM announcement."

The retailer's 2,800-vehicle fleet includes approximately 200 affected Toyota vehicles and 130 Pontiac Vibes. The fleet "will not be using Toyota" on its spring order and plans to use another manufacturer that already provides the company's vans and pickups.

Although noting the recall impacted just a small fraction of the company's fleet vehicles, BASF Corp. Fleet Specialist Nancy Greb reported, "E-mail notifications were sent to all drivers as well as a follow-up phone call to let them know of the situation with Toyota. A few drivers were under the impression that this was just another 'floor mat issue.' If the driver felt that their safety was compromised in any way, BASF suggested that they contact our leasing company to obtain a rental until additional information was received from the auto manufacturer."

According to Jim McCarthy, director, Siemens vehicle management services, about 7 percent of the 247 Toyota vehicles in the Iselin, N.J.-based company's 15,000-plus unit fleet are impacted by the recall. In addition, the fleet deploys 16 Pontiac Vibes.

McCarthy said the measures Siemens has taken include cancelling Toyota Camry orders where possible "anywhere in the pipeline" and removing the Camry template from the fleet selector. Additionally, "consistent notifications are being sent to affected drivers with updates and recommendations."

A "Do Not Drive" mandate regarding affected vehicles has not been issued, but McCarthy said the action "is in discussion at this time."

To date, no Novo Nordisk drivers had experienced faulty pedal problems with their Toyota company vehicles, primarily Highlander SUVs assigned to managers, reported Donna Bibbo, manager of fleet and employee services for the healthcare company. However, Bibbo said, "We are going to allow any of them who are concerned to get a rental vehicle until Toyota has issued an official recall, and they can get their vehicles fixed."

Toyota vehicles have also been removed from Novo Nordisk's spring order cycle selector. "Better to be safe than sorry is how I look at it," said Bibbo.

At paint and finishes manufacturer Benjamin Moore, Procurement Agent Rosali Falato has "made sure are drivers are aware of the situation (all employees.)." She also clarified that a sticking accelerator "may not be in the floor mats, but the pedal itself."

Benjamin Moore's fleet numbers about 400 units.

For drivers with impacted Toyota vehicles on order, Falato requested the company's leasing company contact the employees to offer a choice of waiting the vehicle ordering another manufacturer's vehicle.

"Both of the leasing companies I currently use have been proactive in keeping me informed of the situation. Toyota has also been very good about distributing information," said Falato. "However, I needed to take the initiative with the leasing company to request they contact the drivers and offer them another option."

She believes "if Toyota took positive action to assist those in these vehicles until a 'fix' could be found, it would create more trust in the Toyota nameplate." One possible "fix" could be a "loaner program" for any impacted vehicles on order or in service.

While driver safety issues are a priority, Falato also expressed concerns "about the residual value of Toyota, considering the expanse of this problem."

Toyota's Recall Extended to Sales Suspensions

After issuing a recall last week Toyota Tuesday instructed its dealers to temporarily suspend sales of the following models:

  • Certain 2009-2010 RAV4.
  • Certain 2009-2010 Corolla.
  • 2009-2010 Matrix.
  • 2005-2010 Avalon.
  • Certain 2007-2010 Camry.
  • Certain 2010 Highlander.
  • 2007-2010 Tundra.
  • 2008-2010 Sequoia.

Included in the recall and sales suspension are GM's 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibe models. The product of a joint GM/Toyota venture, the Vibe and the Toyota Matrix are similar vehicles. Since GM ended production of the Vibe last summer, only a few dozen remain in dealership showrooms.

Yesterday, Toyota extended the recall to Europe, affecting 2 million additional vehicles.

Toyota also this week expanded by 1.1 million vehicles last fall's separate 4.3 million vehicle recall related to a potential risk for floor mat entrapment of accelerator pedals.

Toyota engineers have been working "around the clock" to solve the problem in coordination with Elkhart, Ind.-based CTS Corporation, supplier of the accelerator pedal under investigation. According to media reports, CTS has tested a newly designed pedal, now in full production and expected to be delivered to dealerships and factories.

In the interim, dealers are instructed on "reshaping" the accelerator pedal. Customers who have their vehicle pedals reshaped can have a new pedal installed when they become available. In addition, Toyota will replace any Toyota all-weather floor mat in an impacted subject vehicle with a newly designed mat, free of charge.

In addition to alerts to fleet and leasing companies, the automaker has posted instructions on its Web site for drivers who may encounter a sticky accelerator pedal.

Other Fleet Industry Segments React

In his "Auto Focus" blog, Business Fleet magazine editor Chris Brown, reported "leasing companies are taking the approach to inform clients, while leaving the decision to ground a vehicle up to the client."

Identifying customers with affected Toyotas, leasing companies "are telling clients to take their vehicles to a Toyota dealer, and they are forwarding the link from Toyota that discusses the problem and what to do." said Brown.

In published statements, rental companies Avis Budget Group, Hertz, Dollar Thrifty, and Enterprise Holdings (Enterprise, National, and Alamo) announced this week they have pulled Toyota models covered in the recall and are suspending sales of the affected vehicles.

The National Auto Auction Association (NAAA), the largest U.S. used-vehicle auto auction association, has recommended all member auctions immediately halt sales of recall-impacted Toyota models. "NAAA will work with and support the decision of Toyota Motor Sales as they make every effort to address the situation," said a statement from the organization.

Several NAAA members have endorsed the organization's recommendation. Atlanta-based Manheim, a leading wholesale auto auction operation, issued a statement on its Web site in support of the association's recommendation.

ServNet Auctions, a Franklin, Tenn.-headquartered network of 22 independently owned auto auction sites across the U.S., will also follow the NAAA recommendation, according to a statement by Jeff Brasher, ServNet president.

Noting that ADESA "will work closely with Toyota's management to resolve this issue," ADESA President and CEO Tom Caruso, also issued a statement supporting the NAAA recommendation. ADESA operates 62 auction locations in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.


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