Toyota has put out the word unofficially that NHTSA has agreed to the automaker's proposed remedy -- involving the insertion of a metal spacer or shim into accelerator assemblies prone to sticking that may in rare instances lead to a dangerous episode of a run-away car, truck or SUV.
An announcement is expected Monday of the remedy, followed by the arrival a few days later of the first of the little shims at dealerships around the country, which can begin fixing Toyota customers' vehicles subject to the recall. The company reportedly is producing 120,000 shims a day, meaning it would take about 20 days to produce enough shims to fix the 2.1 million Toyota vehicles in the recent recall.
Toyota is clearly hoping that the execution of the shim fix will mark the beginning of the end of the crisis, allowing the company to begin rebuilding its brand. It's by no means evident, however, that this hastily discovered remedy will indeed cure the problem, or that Toyota has included enough of its vehicles in the recall. Toyota wants the world to believe its earlier recall of 5.3 million vehicles to fix floor mats that could interfere with the vehicle's gas pedal is a separate, unrelated issue and that those vehicles don't also need the shim.
Let's hope Toyota has drawn the proper fences around these problems and has therefore taken the necessary steps to begin putting the crisis behind it. Clearly, it still has a lot of explaining to do, as two Congressional committees prepare to grill the automaker in February hearings.
Meanwhile, the company has pulled the plug on a national "Portfolio" advertising campaign that had been stressing quality, safety and durability -- clearly trying to avoid the "snicker factor." Instead, Toyota rolled out new full-page newspaper ads today announcing that it had taken "a temporary pause. To put you first," explaining that its decision to close plants had been made because "it is the right thing to do for our customers.”
This is the right message (even if the rest of the story is that NHTSA had compelled Toyota to take the action after the automaker's "voluntary" recall announcement last week without a root cause or a known fix). If -- and this is a multi-billion-dollar "if" -- the remedy is indeed a true fix and is properly applied to the full population of suspect vehicles, the crisis will have hit bottom and Toyota can begin rebuilding trust. The Toyota brand is strong and built on decades of superior quality and strong customer loyalty. But it is not invincible.