Toyota Motor (TM) will open seven additional safety field offices across North America to aid in investigations of vehicle defects in the wake of massive safety recalls, the automaker said Thursday.
The new openings raise the total of field offices across the continent to 21 and includes one being set up in San Francisco to specialize in hybrid vehicle problems, Bloomberg News reported.
"These steps are more than fixing past mistakes, it's also about overall quality improvements," Dino Triantafyllos, vice president of Toyota's U.S. quality division, told reporters at the company's headquarters in its namesake city in central Japan, the news agency reported.
In addition to San Francisco, other field offices will focus on specific problems. The office in Jacksonville, Fla., will examine heating, cooling and ventilation problems, while Denver will specialize in high-altitude issues and sporty-utility vehicles, and trucks and chassis components will be addressed in Houston, Bloomberg said.
The field offices average four to five employees, Triantafyllos said, without noting how much Toyota is budgeting for the effort.
Toyota's most high profile safety problem has involved the recall of some 8 million cars worldwide to fix problems related to unintended acceleration, which have included installing shims in gas pedals to ease sticking or shaving them down to prevent them from being hung up on bulky floor mats. The company agreed to pay the federal government a record $16.4 million fine in April for failing to report in a timely manner the sticky-pedal problem.
But numerous other, smaller recalls have continued to hammer the carmaker's image. They include the recall just this week of 270,000 Lexus vehicles, including 138,000 in the U.S., that may stall because of faulty engine valve springs. And late last month, Toyota said it would recall 17,000 Lexus HS 250h hybrid sedans, after federal auto safety documents showed that fuel spilled from the vehicle during a crash test.
Toyota dealers have repaired millions of vehicles, but the automaker still faces more than 200 lawsuits tied to accidents, the lower resale value of Toyota vehicles and the drop in the company's stock.
Toyota shares have lost nearly 16% of the value so far this year in trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares ended Wednesday's trading higher by 1.4% to $71, during an overall up day for Wall Street.
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