WASHINGTON — Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it will replace accelerator pedals on about 4 million recalled vehicles in the United States because the pedals can get stuck in the floor mats, another blow to the reputation of the world's largest automaker.
Toyota said dealers will offer to shorten the length of the gas pedals by about 0.75 inches starting in January as a stopgap measure while the company develops replacement pedals. New pedals will be installed by dealers on a rolling basis starting in April, and some vehicles will have brake override systems installed as a precaution.
Toyota announced the massive recall in late September and told owners to remove the driver's side floor mats to keep the gas pedal from becoming jammed.
Popular vehicles such as the Toyota Camry, the top-selling passenger car in America, and the Toyota Prius, the best-selling gas-electric hybrid, are among those getting fixed. The recall also included the luxury Lexus ES350, the vehicle in a fiery fatal accident in California that focused public attention on the danger.
"The safety of our owners and the public is our utmost concern, and Toyota has and will continue to thoroughly investigate and take appropriate measures to address any defect trends that are identified," the Japanese automaker said in a statement.
Toyota spokesman Irv Miller said the company was "very, very confident that we have addressed this issue" with the fix. Toyota officials said the floor mats are sold only in the United States and the recall would be limited to North America.
Toyota declined to provide a cost estimate for the fix, but analysts said it would be extremely expensive because of the extensive repairs involved and the manufacturing of new pedals. Toyota also said it would provide newly designed replacement floor mats for the driver and front-passenger side.
The recall represents the latest blemish for Toyota, which developed a sterling reputation for quality in the United States by selling reliable family vehicles but faced challenges as it rapidly expanded. While recalls do not always indicate diminished reliability, Toyota executives have expressed concern about large numbers of recalls and pushed for improved quality controls.
"Their reputation has taken a hit because the actual quality has taken a hit," said Aaron Bragman, an automotive analyst for the consulting firm IHS Global Insight. "That's absolutely critical for Toyota to get that fixed, because that's the central pillar that they've built their business on."
The government has attributed at least five deaths and two injuries to floor mat-related unintended acceleration in the Toyota vehicles and has received reports of more than 100 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck.
Toyota plans to make the brake override system standard equipment throughout the Toyota and Lexus lineup by the end of 2010.