Technician Bobby Rewoldt II installs a shim into a Corolla accelerator… (Paul Sancya / Associated…)
Toyota dealers have fixed 600,000 sticky pedals and have begun making software updates to recalled Prius vehicles amid signs that they may have to wrestle with another recall, this time involving steering problems with the popular Corolla.
Roughly 50,000 accelerator modifications are being completed each day, though the rate is expected to gradually slow, said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons.
In all, Toyota Motor Corp. has issued 10 million recall notices worldwide to address the potential for sudden acceleration. Repairs began about two weeks ago.
"It's going very smoothly now because the technicians have gone through a lot of cars," said Lars Andersson, service manager at Toyota of Huntington Beach. "We'll fix whatever Toyota puts out. We're here to get them back on the road as soon as possible."
On Friday, Toyota's top executive, Akio Toyoda, drew praise from Japanese officials after agreeing to testify before a U.S. congressional committee about the recalls.
Toyoda, the grandson of the automaker's founder, had initially indicated he would not attend the hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform next week.
But on Thursday, Toyoda said he accepted a personal invitation from the committee's chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.).
Japan's transport minister, Seiji Maehara, told reporters Friday that he welcomed Toyoda's change of heart. And Katsuya Okada, the country's foreign minister, said the move could help prevent a transpacific tiff.
"I hope Toyota will soon regain the trust of their customers around the world," Okada told reporters Friday." Although this is a matter of one individual company, we wish to back them up as much as we can as it could become a national issue."
The recalls have affected millions of vehicles, including top-sellers such as the Camry, Corolla and the Prius hybrid. Toyota has blamed floor mats and potentially sticky pedals for cases that have involved vehicles accelerating out of control.
Dealers are also girding for a possible recall of the Corolla after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a formal probe Thursday into steering problems in late-year versions of the model.
Another recall could send even more customers to rental car companies.
Weeks after some rental firms announced that they were pulling Toyotas from their fleets to be fixed, their remaining inventory is in high demand from drivers with recalled vehicles.
At Enterprise Rent-A-Car, reservations have boomed over the last few weeks, partly because of Toyota customers waiting for their cars to be repaired.
The company also noted a record amount of online reservations for its 5,000 so-called home-city neighborhood locations, which offer free pick-up service to nearby customers.
Companies in localized markets are "seeing a general uptick in business," said Bob Barton, president of the American Car Rental Assn.
But in more populated areas, where Toyota dealerships are slogging through massive repair backlogs, the hike in recent rentals is more pronounced, Barton said.
"There is clearly a need, but overall this is a very manageable situation for everyone," he said. "It's like when you're at the card table in Vegas, where one guy draws a bad hand and the guy next to him sees an opportunity."
Barton, who is also chief executive of Jackson, Miss.-based U-Save Car and Truck Rental, said some dealerships had asked U-Save franchises to set aside cars for a month or two for Toyota customers.
But because the recalls landed conveniently in the middle of rental companies' slow season, Barton said, an uncontrollable overflow of demand has been averted.
"If the recalls were taking place over Thanksgiving and Christmas, it would be a much greater challenge than it is right now," he said.
Of the 133,000 Prius vehicles affected in a separate recall to fix potential braking problems, about 25,000 Prius have been repaired, a quick process because the software download takes only a few minutes, Toyota said.
Dealers have also made 150,000 floor mat modifications and have dealt with 2,500 recalled Lexus IS 250 vehicles after the software became available Wednesday morning.
At Longo Toyota in El Monte, technicians completed 2,600 accelerator fixes and 1,400 floor mat repairs as of Wednesday since first receiving parts Feb. 3, the dealership said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.