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'Smooth ride ahead' - Auto players predict full Toyota recovery

Published:Sunday | June 20, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Brian Bonitto, Special Assignment Editor

Despite Toyota's bumpy patch on safety issues, there is confidence in the market the brand will recover lost ground.

"It will take them [Toyota] no time to get past this turbulent period," said Dudley McEwan, former 1970s auto dealer.

McEwan, who said he pays keen attention to both the international and local markets, said consumers are loyal to the brand.

"Toyota has proven itself to be a reliable brand for the masses. The makers will soon remedy the problems."

Recently, the world's top auto manufacturer paid US$16.4 million in fines to US regulators for being slow to recall vehicles with defective accelerator pedals.

McEwan said he remembers when Toyota entered the Jamaican market.

"This was about 1973 and they cost about $3,000. They were 1200cc," he recalled.

The former dealer said the vehicles — imported by the Pantons on Half-Way Tree Road, St Andrew — generated much excitement.

"A lot of people came to see them [the Toyotas] as they were new and were coming into a market dominated by Ford, so we knew a battle was on," he said.

Envelop the masses

"Ford Escorts and Cortinas were common at the time," he continued.

McEwan said Toyota eventually stole the hearts of middle-income professionals and today, has grown to envelop the masses. He believes this love will help Toyota ride out its current predicament.

"Cars with manufacturers' defects are nothing new to the auto industry ... it has happened to all brands of vehicles," McEwan said.

Auto dealer Kirk Crichton agreed.

"Every brand has its own particular issues," Crichton said. "Today is Toyota, tomorrow it's Honda and another day it may be Benz ... car manufacturers go through these things time to time. It is unfortunate, though, when the defects are not caught early and result in loss of lives."

While not disclosing any figures, the managing director of Crichton Automotive Ltd said sales, locally, were not adversely affected.

"Toyota is a good brand and a good track record. In addition, they market the brand very well," said Crichton.

Recently, Toyota's global image has been dented by massive recalls. Sticking accelerators generated a recall of 3.4 million vehicles in the US, Europe and China. Prior to that, the company recalled 4.2 million due to accelerator pedals becoming stuck under floor mats.

At that time, managing director of Toyota Jamaica, John Connell, said the vehicles distributed by his company were not affected.

"The recall seems confined to left-hand drive vehicles only," he told Automotives.

Toyota is the world's top-selling automaker and sold about 7.81 million vehicles in 2009.