Recall focus turns to CTS

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As Toyota Motor Corp.'s quality crisis appears to spiral out of control, attention was focused last week on an Indiana company that supplies accelerator-pedal assemblies.

Toyota announced the recall of 2.3 million vehicles equipped with the potentially sticking accelerator pedals Jan. 21, followed by a Jan. 26 announcement that it was halting dealer deliveries of any new vehicles under the recall until a fix is made.

Toyota officials, meanwhile, were confused last week about whether there already is a fix ready for the faulty pedal mechanism.

Sources in Japan said Jan. 26 that the supplier of pedal modules, CTS Corp. of Elkhart, Ind., had begun shipping replacement pedal mechanisms to some North American factories and that production soon would ramp up so that all five Toyota North American plants producing the recalled vehicles will be supplied.

But in Torrance, Calif., Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said that was news to him.

“I know we have been working with CTS,” he said, “but I cannot substantiate when they started making the new pedal or where we stand with getting the parts.”

On Jan. 28, CTS said it has indeed begun shipping a redesigned part to Toyota's factories, and is working with Toyota on a possible fix for vehicles already on the road.

The parts produced by CTS include the plastic pedal and the plastic arm beneath it, which runs through a hole in the floorboard and ultimately into a box in the engine compartment. Inside the box are springs that push the pedal back to its resting position when the driver takes his foot off the gas.

Toyota said the problems occur as the parts wear over time. The automaker said this could cause the accelerator to seize or stick in the depressed position.

The dealer fix could be announced as early as this week and will likely involve inserting a metal shim into a gap in the friction lever, a person familiar with the matter said. This is supposed to reduce friction and stop the accelerator from sticking.

It is not clear if plastics played a role in the failure of the devices. Toyota's repair directions do not specify whether metal or plastic parts are at issue.

Meanwhile, Toyota announced Jan. 28 that it planned to extend the recall to include vehicles manufactured in Europe.

A spokesman for Toyota's United Kingdom operation said the company has yet to determine the number of vehicles involved in the recall.

“We can't say at the moment. Everything is under investigation, and until we have done that, we can't say which models are affected,” the spokesman said.

The company said it hopes to have quantified the number of vehicles involved by early next week.

The Toyota spokesman said CTS, a supplier of electronic sensors and components with $500 million in annual sales, is one of a number of suppliers of accelerator pedals to its European production units.

The carmaker could not confirm whether these pedals are supplied from CTS' U.S.-based manufacturing facility or from one of its European plants; CTS has manufacturing units in Scotland and the Czech Republic.

CTS did not respond to questions about the locations for Toyota's European production.

However, in a statement issued Jan. 27, CTS said: “The products we supply to Toyota, including the pedals covered by the recent recall, have been manufactured to Toyota's design specifications.”

Toyota said the recall will not stop its manufacturing lines in Europe, as it had implemented a pedal design modification across its model line in August following a number of customer complaints during the previous winter.

According to the Toyota spokesman, the design modification was made after 26 customers in Europe had complained about occasional pedal stiffness in winter conditions. The company said none of these reported cases involved a pedal seizing or jamming.

CTS describes Toyota as a “small but important” customer. In a statement, it said the carmaker accounts for about 3 percent of its annual sales.

Toyota already was in the process of recalling around 4.4 million Toyota and Lexus models over concerns of pedal entrapment due to incorrectly located floor mats.

Automotive News staff reporter Kathy Jackson and European Plastics News editor Chris Smith contributed to this report.

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