Drivers sticking by Toyota despite recalls

Mike Maslanik

Despite recalls, government fines and a contrite appearance before Congress by the company president, Americans are still buying Toyota brand vehicles and many owners remain satisfied with them.

Experts and Toyota owners point to the automaker’s reputation for quality and reliability as reasons why the driving public is largely standing by the company.

“The bottom line is, Toyota has been a reliable car company for many, many years,” said Ron Barton, a mechanic at Dobbs Family Auto Service in Canandaigua.

According to a recent poll from Rassmussen Reports, 64 percent of Toyota owners say they are at least somewhat likely to buy their next vehicle from the automaker. Forty percent said they are very likely to do so.

A majority of Toyota owners — 69 percent — have a positive view of the company, compared to 28 percent with a negative view, according to the Rassmussen poll.

Cassie Steward, 21, of Canandaigua, is one driver sticking with the company.

“I’ve never run into any of the problems you hear about with the recalls,” Steward said. “Toyotas have always been good to me.”

Still, the company faces skepticism from the public at large, the survey shows. Just 29 percent of all adults polled said their next car is likely to be a Toyota, a steep drop from 54 percent in a survey taken last September.

Regardless of public opinion, sales of Toyotas have been climbing in the months since news of the recalls broke.

In January — the month that gas pedal problems, in which the pedals would stick and cause acceleration, were first reported — the company sold 98,796 vehicles in the U.S., a drop of 8.7 percent from the previous year.

That month, the company initiated a recall of about a dozen vehicle models after reports surfaced that gas pedals were sticking in the accelerate position.

The United States Department of Transportation fined the company $16.4 million for failing to inform the government of the problems in a timely manner. Multiple lawsuits have also been filed against the company from people hurt in crashes related to the problems.

While the company sold more vehicles in February — 100,027 — sales were down 8.7 percent from the year before.

The company came charging back last month, selling 186,863 vehicles, an increase of 35.3 percent since last year. 

One reason so many Toyota owners are sticking by the company is its long-cultivated reputation for reliability, said George Conboy, president of Brighton Securities, an independent stock brokerage and investment firm.

“A big part of it is that Toyota built a reputation for quality over a period of decades,” Conboy said. “It will take more than this number of recalls to put a dent in that reputation.”

Since Toyotas have such high customer satisfaction, many owners go through multiple vehicles without any problems, he said, leading them to give the company the benefit of the doubt.

In his roughly 30 years as an auto mechanic, Barton has seen a lot of cars pull in and out of the garage. Toyotas, he said, are among the most reliable and beloved by their owners.

“I know a lot of people who have Toyotas, or Hondas, themselves and buy them for their kids for their first car,” Barton said. “Maintenance is minimal, and the quality is very good.”

Even in the face of the recall, the Toyota owners Barton knows are sticking with the brand.

While Toyota’s sterling background may have saved it from lasting damage this time, Conboy said, the company still can’t afford many missteps in the future. Over the years, domestic automakers have closed the gap with Toyota in terms of reliability and overall quality, he said.

“The GM and Ford of today do not long lag behind Toyota in any measurable way,” he said. “They are way better than they were 10 years ago.”

So if too many Toyota owners become disaffected, they might find themselves taking other vehicles for a test drive and changing alllegiances.

That hasn’t happened yet — at least according to Barton. So far, none of the Toyota owners he knows have been scared away by the recall.

In addition to offering discounts and cash-back deals on nearly all of its new models, Barton expects the company to do its best to keep existing customers coming back for more.

“I’m sure Toyota will bend over backwards at this point to make people happy,” he said.

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By the numbers


New Toyotas sold in January


New Toyotas sold in February


New Toyotas sold in March