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Amid Toyota recall, business at Tampa Bay dealership holds strong

NEW PORT RICHEY — Tuesday night was a sleepless one for Joe Reth, general manager of Sun Toyota.

Earlier that night, he received an e-mail from his distributor — sales had to be halted on eight recalled models, including the Camry, Tundra, Corolla and Highlander. He didn't have many details — just visions of a sparse lot.

"I had a rather voicely conversation with my owner," Reth said. "These are expensive facilities to keep up."

Daybreak brought more information, more clarity, more peace of mind. The problem came down to a specific gas pedal found only on certain cars. First thing Wednesday, everyone pitched in to inspect, crawling under seats to examine each vehicle.

"We inspected 150 cars before 10 a.m.," Reth said. "We got every one from the shop and sent them out there with flashlights."

The result?

"We are open for business," he said. In his eyes, there is no cause for panic, no need to cancel Toyota dreams, no need to assume that the world's No. 1 automaker is aspirating.

Toyota announced the eight-model "stop-sale" to fix gas pedals that can stick when they wear down. Months ago, the automaker recalled 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles amid worries that pedals could lodge under floor mats, something blamed for crashes including one in California that killed four people.

Toyota's stock fell on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, while Ford's enjoyed a boost.

But at the U.S. 19 dealership, there were still 250 cars ready to drive away, including 40 Camrys, a model touted as America's most popular car. Sun Toyota had everything except Corollas, which customers could still buy and take home once the defective part is replaced, Reth said.

Workers moved recalled cars to a holding lot, where they will stay until the new parts arrive. Employees put printouts in car windows illustrating the difference between a good pedal and a questionable pedal.

Tom and Judy Vega weren't set on buying a Toyota when they went car shopping at Sun Toyota Wednesday. The 46-year-old parents of three had heard good things about the dealership from friends — along with the recall.

"That was the first thing out of my mouth," Judy Vega said. "They explained it to me. … I don't think there is mass pandemonium."

The Vegas drove away with a blue 2010 Camry.

As for the woes of the struggling car salesperson, it's overblown, Reth said. Sun Toyota sells about 450 cars a month, and sales figures went up in January.

Will customers be scared away by that recall figure eight?

Before 3 p.m. Wednesday, Sun Toyota had sold exactly that many cars.

Stephanie Hayes can be reached at shayes@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8857.

Amid Toyota recall, business at Tampa Bay dealership holds strong 01/27/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 27, 2010 9:43pm]
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