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Consumer backlash hurting Toyota's sales

Toyota's fix for the gas pedal problem that led to the recall of millions of cars has not come soon enough to prevent a consumer backlash in the United States and elsewhere that is battering its sales.

One of Toyota's top executives said yesterday the damage from the global recall of nearly 4.6 million vehicles may be greater than previous quality problems because of the huge scale. "This is unprecedented in having caused this huge problem for customers," said Shinichi Sasaki, who oversees quality control at the world's No. 1 automaker.

He said it was too soon to put a number on the ultimate cost of the recall. But Tatsuo Yoshida, an auto analyst at UBS in Tokyo, estimated the recalls are likely to cost about $900 million, and lost sales are costing Toyota another $155 million a week.

Toyota Motor Corp. sales fell 16 percent last month as it reeled from a massive recall, Reuters reported, and rivals Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp. surged past it in the U.S. market. Toyota's U.S. market share fell to its lowest level since January 2006 and its sales dropped below 100,000 vehicles for the first time in more than a decade.

The recall to fix a gas pedal that can stick when depressed covers some 2.3 million vehicles in the United States alone, including some best-selling models, such as the Camry and Corolla. The company has recalled millions more because of floor mats that can catch the gas pedal.

Early today, Japanese officials in Tokyo said they had received 14 complaints about a brake problem with Toyota's Prius hybrid, which was not affected by the recall. A transport ministry official said the complaints included an accident in July in which a Prius hit another car head on at an intersection; two people were slightly hurt. Toyota was ordered to probe the complaints.

Toyota apologized to customers Monday and said a postage-stamp-size piece of steel will fix the gas-pedal problem. After a week in which Toyota drivers said they are worried about safety and dealers were frustrated by scant details, Toyota said it would work to regain trust.

"This is embarrassing for us to have . . . this kind of recall situation," Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said. "But it doesn't necessarily mean that we have lost our edge on quality."

An ABC News poll found that 63 percent of Americans still rate Toyota favorably, and 72 percent see the gas-pedal problem as isolated. About a quarter said the recall makes them less likely to buy a Toyota. The poll of 1,012 adults had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.

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