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U.S. satisfied with recall fix, Toyota chief apologizes


The Toyota logo is lit up above Boch Toyota's dealership in Norwood, Massachusetts January 27, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
The Toyota logo is lit up above Boch Toyota's dealership in Norwood, Massachusetts January 27, 2010. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

By John Crawley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. safety regulators are satisfied with a Toyota Motor Corp. plan for fixing an accelerator problem that is part of a widening global recall and unprecedented sales and production halt, a government official said on Saturday.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) engineers have reviewed Toyota's proposal for preventing gas pedals in eight models from sticking and have raised no objections, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has yet to be publicly announced.

Toyota has issued a series of recent recalls covering 5.6 million vehicles in the United states due to sudden acceleration in some vehicles. It is the largest ever recall for Toyota and among the biggest for an automaker in U.S. history.

The problem has affected popular selling Toyota cars as well as its luxury Lexus models and is suspected of causing crashes that led to 19 fatalities over the past decade, government officials have said.

Nearly 2 million vehicles also have been recalled in Europe. PSA Peugeot Citroen said on Saturday it would recall 100,000 Peugeot 107 and Citroen C1 models made at a factory in the Czech Republic where the French group and Toyota jointly make cars.

Some 75,000 Toyota vehicles have been recalled in China.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized for the recall, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported on Friday.

"We're extremely sorry to have made customers uneasy," Toyoda said on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in comments that were broadcast by NHK.

Toyoda last commented publicly on the matter in October, when he expressed regret for the deaths of four people in a California crash linked to the defects last year.

Most of the vehicles recalled in the United States were singled out over concerns that gas pedals could get jammed on floor mats. Toyota is modifying gas pedals, redesigning floor mats, and taking other steps to address that issue.

The subject of the fix reviewed by NHTSA this week and expected to be announced by Toyota within days covers more than 2 million vehicles equipped with gas pedals that may not spring back as designed.

The remedy being readied by Toyota and its accelerator supplier, CTS Corp, involves a shim, also called a spacer, that will be placed in the accelerator to keep it from sticking, sources have said.

NHTSA regulators are not required to approve the remedy but they can reject the approach if they consider it inadequate.

Toyota said in a statement late on Saturday that it had reviewed the pedal fix with NHTSA and was finalizing details.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said last week that NHTSA, which is part of his agency, closely reviewed the proposal.

LaHood said he was satisfied with Toyota's overall response to the acceleration issue, which has dented its reputation and prompted rivals, like government-owned General Motors Co., to try and lure its customers to their brands with incentives.

As part of the recalls, Toyota has been forced to suspend sales of eight models in the United States, including its Camry sedan, the best-selling car in the world's second-biggest auto market. It also temporarily halted production of the eight models at six U.S. and Canadian plants.

Sources briefed on Toyota's U.S. sales plans told Reuters on Friday the sales shutdown would continue until at least mid-February.

A resumption assumes a smooth and swift rollout of a remedy to fix faulty accelerators in vehicles already sold or for sale at dealerships, the sources said.

Toyota announces third-quarter financial results on February 4. Analysts estimate the sales halt could cost Toyota at least $550 million in operating profit per month.

Separate congressional committees have scheduled hearings into the matter next month. LaHood, NHTSA Administrator David Strickland and Toyota North American President Yoshimi Inaba are expected to testify.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Krolicki and Bernie Woodall in Detroit, Chang-Ran Kim and Aiko Hayashi in Tokyo; Sudip Kar-Gupta in Paris; editing by Paul Simao)

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