A Toyota executive said customer service is the priority for the world's No. 1 automaker during its ongoing recall problems, and the company is undergoing a top-to-bottom review of its quality control.
"We have a singular focus today _ taking care of the customers on an individual basis. That's everything that we are doing," Toyota group vice president Bob Carter said Saturday at Daytona International Speedway. "Quite frankly, nothing else is important."
Carter cited Dennis Elmer of Priority Toyota in Hampton Roads, Va., as one of the many dealers going above and beyond to help customers effected by the recent global recall of 8.5 million vehicles for faulty gas pedals and brakes.
A customer who had recently driven her recalled car to Florida called Elmer concerned about traveling back to Virginia. Carter said Elmer sent a new car to Florida on a flatbed truck, and swapped it for her recalled vehicle, which was returned to Virginia at dealership expense.
"I asked him if this was a customer that bought tons of cars from you? His answer was, 'No, not really. But she called, she was concerned, I talked to her personally and it was just the right thing to do,'" Carter said. "That's the kinds of things that people are doing, and there are hundreds of these types of examples among our dealers."
Carter was in Florida for Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500, where Toyota has 13 Camrys qualified for the 43-car field.
Carter said Toyota's participation in NASCAR will not be effected by the recall, no matter the financial hit the automaker takes. The company views NASCAR as a valuable marketing tool, particularly at a time it needs to regain consumer confidence.
"If you go back five years ago, before we entered the Truck Series, you walked through the parking lots and there was very few, if any, Toyotas," Carter said. "If you go today, that has changed dramatically. There is obviously Fords, Chevys and Dodges, but there are also Toyotas.
"NASCAR gave us an opportunity to get in front of an audience that quite frankly had not considered us before."
J.D. Gibbs, president of Toyota flagship team Joe Gibbs Racing, said he expected the automaker to put an emphasis on its NASCAR involvement as part of an overall effort to promote the product.
"I actually think we'll see quite the opposite of any negative effects in NASCAR, because this is such an important marketing tool for Toyota," Gibbs said. "NASCAR gives them an opportunity to display their cars, promote their message and show everyone their commitment to building a great product."
General Motors, which in 2008 lost its title as world's biggest automaker to Toyota, passed on an opportunity Saturday to gloat about its rival's issues even while admitting the Toyota problem has helped domestic manufacturers.
"What's interesting for all the domestic players is that our quality and reputation maybe is not perceived as close to actual," said outgoing Chevrolet vice president Brent Dewar, who will retire April 1. "I think if anything, we're getting maybe a closer look.
"From an industry standpoint, we don't wish anybody this, because obviously there were injuries involved and consumers and safety," Dewar said. "That's just not good for anybody. We understand that building cars and trucks are a complex thing, we have a lot of regulation to go through it, and they're going to work their way through it."
Carter also vowed that Toyota will be a better company once the recalls have been completed and the company has addressed its ongoing quality review.
"We without a doubt have built this company for the last 50 years in the U.S. on quality and reliability," he said. "That's who we are, what we built and that's what we're going to build for the next 50 years. We can make a mistake or an error, but the consumers, I believe, look not so much that you made a mistake, but how you correct it. That's where we will define ourselves."
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