NJ Car Dealers Relieved After Transportation Sec "Misspeech"

LaHood told Toyota owners to "stop driving" before taking it back

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    NEWSLETTERS

    You ask for it, you got it.

    In the midst of a massive recall by Toyota, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had to make his own recall, of these words: "My advice is if anybody owns one of these vehicles, stop driving it. Take it to a Toyota dealer."

    LaHood made the statement during a Congressional hearing Wednesday morning, and the headline went out across the country.

    At the Toyota dealership at the Sansone Auto Mall in Woodbridge, N.J., the phones started ringing off the hook with owners wondering what they could -- or should -- do.

    "We would have given them a free loaner" if necessary said Manager John Grillo, standing on the showroom floor. "Anything to make it right," he added.

    But less than two hours after LaHood said those words, he admitted he goofed.

    "What I said in there was obviously a misstatement," the Transportation Secretary told reporters outside the hearing room.

    And you could almost hear a sigh of relief coming from the dealerships.

    Fallout from the gas pedal acceleration problem has already sharply cut into sales. And then there are owners such as Marelyn Rivera, 23, of North Bergen, N.J. She owns a 2007 Camry which is covered in the recall and doesn't feel very safe.

    "Since I read there's been deaths related to it, [it] hasn't really [felt safe]," Rivera worried.

    She plans on taking her car in this weekend to get the fix, and at Sansone, Service Manager Rich Hyland said they will be ready.

    The first small, wafer-like parts came in Wednesday. Training will be Thursday morning and repairs could begin as soon as Thursday afternoon, according to Hyland.

    "I have a total of 40 technicians that are available to me," said Hyland. That's 16 more than normal, and he said they will be working til midnight every day, and even open on Sunday to make the fix as fast as possible. Highland expects each car to take about half an hour, and of course it will be free for owners.

    Sansone shrugged off LaHood's "misspeech," with President John Pugliese saying the focus is on the recall. "Getting those cars in the door and getting them fixed for our customers so they can be out the door and happy driving," is the goal, Pugliese said.

    And all the furor didn't seem to bother 62-year-old Gerry Blumenthal of Islin, N.J. She was buying her fourth Toyota at Sansone. "I have confidence in the company. They'll do the right thing by me," she said as she took delivery on a new Venza.