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Toyota Motor Stops Selling Eight Models in American Market

Toyota halted sales of 8 models in U.S. for pedal flaw. Toyota Motor, still struggling to resolve a problem with accelerator pedals, said Tuesday that it would temporarily stop building and selling eight models, including the popular Camry and Corolla sedans, in the North American market.

The unusual move follows two recalls of millions of vehicles in the last two months for a problem that the company has described as a “rare” condition in which the gas pedal can stick and cause a vehicle to speed up unintentionally.

“This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized,” Robert S. Carter, a Toyota group vice president, said in a statement. “We’re making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.”

The suspension has the potential to further damage Toyota, whose reputation for quality helped make it the world’s No. 1 carmaker in recent years. Toyota said it would immediately stop selling the Camry, Corolla and Avalon sedans, Matrix wagon, RAV4 crossover, Tundra pickup, and Highlander and Sequoia sport utility vehicles.

Toyota said the move was intended to restore confidence in the automaker, and the safety of its products. One analyst said many consumers might have a different reaction.

“The problem seems to be getting larger than anyone was led to believe at first,” said Erich Merkle, an analyst with in Grand Rapids, Mich. “A lot of those vehicles are probably in the garages of families. It gets people thinking, ‘Would I want my wife and kids in the vehicle, would they know what to do in a situation like that.’ ”

It will also stop building those models the week of Feb. 1. All of the vehicles are assembled in the United States or Canada, at a total of five plants.

The models affected accounted for more than a million sales in 2009, 57 percent of Toyota’s American total for the year.

Stock in Toyota was down 3.4 percent at midday on the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

Toyota’s acknowledgement of problems with acceleration pedals reawakens one of the oldest safety issues in the auto industry. Manufacturers have long dismissed that a vehicle can race forward out of the driver’s control, contending that the problem takes place when a driver mistakenly pushes the accelerator while trying to hit the brake pedal.

Design changes to address sudden acceleration have focused until now on placing the accelerator pedal farther to the right relative to the steering wheel, so that drivers are less likely to depress it by mistake during an emergency.

The recession has led to a sharp drop in sales over all for the auto industry. For Toyota dealers, the news will likely further reduce their business.

“It’s not exciting to hear that a good portion of my inventory now can’t be sold,” said Paul Lunsford, general manager of South Coast Toyota in Costa Mesa, Calif.

But Mr. Lunsford, who has been a Toyota dealer for 30 years, applauded the company’s decision to move fast to suspend sales of the vehicles involved in last week’s recall. “Nobody had to put a gun to Toyota’s head to get them to do the right thing,” he said.

Still, Mr. Lunsford added, “it’s not the feel-good story of the year if you’re a Toyota dealer.”

A November recall by Toyota was intended to fix a design flaw that could cause the gas pedal to become trapped under the floor mat. It was prompted in part by the crash of a Lexus sedan that ran out of control and crashed into a ravine near San Diego, killing four people.

But the automaker and federal safety officials continued to receive reports of unintended acceleration and stuck pedals even in cases where the floor mats had been removed, a stopgap measure recommended by Toyota.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been looking into two recent episodes, in Texas and in New Jersey. Four people died on Dec. 26 near Dallas when a Toyota Avalon — with its floor mats in the trunk — went off a road and landed upside down in a pond.

In announcing a second recall last week, Toyota said the accelerator pedal could wear down and become difficult to depress, slow to spring back or get stuck partly depressed.

Toyota does not have a solution for the problem yet, and it said drivers who experienced it should depress the brake firmly and steadily, and then contact a dealer after the vehicle was in a safe location and turned off.

Drivers who have not had a problem should wait for the company to develop a remedy before visiting their dealer.

Together, the two recalls cover 4.8 million vehicles, including 1.7 million affected by both. The Prius hybrid and several Lexus models were included in the November recall but not in last week’s action or the sales halt.

The latest series of recalls threaten to undo all the efforts Toyota made in the middle of the last decade, when it was hit by a series of quality problems that caused recalls to spike. But a number of those recalls were for vehicles at least a decade old.

On its Web site, Toyota said the years and models affected in the sales suspension were the 2009-2010 RAV4 crossover, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007-2010 Tundra, and the 2008-2010 Sequoia.

The plants affected are in Canada, Kentucky and Texas, with two in Indiana.

The most recent recalls follow what Toyota insisted was a companywide effort to improve quality that was started by Katsuaki Watanabe, who served as its president before he was replaced last year by Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder.

The decision to stop production, though unusual, is not unprecedented. Detroit carmakers have delayed or slowed production to address quality issues.

The decision by Toyota on Tuesday has parallels to Ford’s response to Firestone tire problems in 2000 and 2001, but Toyota’s action is much more wide-ranging.

Ford did not halt sales of its Explorer sport utility vehicles when it recalled them in 2000 and 2001 for the replacement of Firestone tires.

The company did announce the suspension of production for one week in 2001 because Firestone had not yet made enough tires using a new design and manufacturing process to supply tires for both the recall and for new vehicles.

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