Toyota suspended U.S. sales of some of its most popular vehicles — including the best-selling car in America, the Camry — to fix sticking gas pedals that could make the cars accelerate without warning.
In another blow to the world’s No. 1 automaker, Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it would halt some production at six assembly plants beginning the week of Feb. 1 "to assess and coordinate activities."
The company said it would stop selling eight models of cars and trucks, a significant portion of its fleet. The suspension comes after a recall of the same models last week involving 2.3 million vehicles.
Toyota has said it was unaware of any accidents or injuries due to the pedal problems associated with the recall, but could not rule them out for sure.
"This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized," said Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president and general manager.
The Japanese automaker said the sales suspension includes the following models: the 2009-2010 RAV4, the 2009-2010 Corolla, the 2007-2010 Camry, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2005-2010 Avalon, the 2010 Highlander, the 2007-2010 Tundra and the 2008-2010 Sequoia.
Some dealers suggested taking vehicles to dealerships for inspections if people have safety concerns.
Aaron Bragman, an auto analyst for the consulting firm IHS Global Insight in Troy, Mich., said Toyota typically sells about 65,000 Camrys and Corollas a month, and the frozen sales could strike at the company’s bottom line and reputation for quality.
"That’s huge if they can’t sell these and they don’t have a fix identified. They need to go and get a solution to this fast," Bragman said.
Toyota sold more than 34,000 Camrys in December, making the midsize sedan America’s best-selling car. It commands 3.4 percent of the U.S. market and sales rose 38 percent from a year earlier. Sales of the Corolla and Matrix, a small sedan and a hatchback, totaled 34,220 last month, making up 3.3 percent of the market and sales up nearly 55 percent from December of 2008.
Toyota spokesman Mike Michels said production would be suspended on the affected vehicle lines this week and it was unclear exactly when it would resume. In an e-mail to employees, company officials said, "we don’t know yet how long this pause will last but we will make every effort to resume production soon."
Michels said engineers were trying to develop a fix as quickly as possible but he did not have a firm timeline on when the vehicle sales could resume.
Toyota shares were down 2.3 percent in early Tokyo trading at 3,780 yen.
The automaker said the move would affect plants in Princeton, Ind., Lafayette, Ind., Georgetown, Ky., San Antonio, Texas, and Cambridge, Ontario, and Woodstock, Ontario, in Canada.
Toyota spokesman Mike Goss said most workers were expected to be at their jobs during the assembly line shutdown. Workers will receive additional training or work on improvements to their assembly processes, but can also take vacation or unpaid leave, he said.
About 300 workers who build V8 engines at a Toyota plant in Huntsville, Ala., will be affected, said Stephanie Deemer, a spokeswoman for the plant. Goss said the shutdowns will also affect engine plants in Georgetown, Ky., and Buffalo, W.Va.
Toyota said no other North American Toyota facility would be affected by the decision.
Toyota dealers said they were concerned the move would hamper sales and were hopeful parts to fix the problem could be distributed quickly.
"They’re going the extra mile to reassure people that they really care about the customers," said Earl Stewart, owner of a Toyota dealership in North Palm Beach, Fla. "It is something that’s going to be at least a short-term hardship on the dealers, and especially on Toyota."
The auto company said the sales suspension wouldn’t affect Lexus or Scion vehicles. Toyota said the Prius, Tacoma, Sienna, Venza, Solara, Yaris, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser and select Camry models, including all Camry hybrids, would remain for sale.
The announcement follows a larger recall months earlier of 4.2 million vehicles because of problems with gas pedals becoming trapped under floor mats, causing sudden acceleration. That problem was the cause of several crashes, including some fatalities.
About 1.7 million vehicles fall under both recalls.
Owners with questions can call the Toyota Customer Experience Center at (800) 331-4331.