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Toyota sales halt hurts image

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

NEW YORK -- Toyota's suspension of U.S. sales on an unprecedented scale to fix faulty gas pedals deals a blow to the automaker's reputation for quality and came amid intense pressure from the Obama administration.

Toyota Motor Corp. announced late Tuesday it would halt sales of some of its top-selling models to fix gas pedals that could stick and cause unintended acceleration. Last week, Toyota issued a recall for the same eight models affecting 2.3 million vehicles.

Toyota is also suspending production at six North American car-assembly plants beginning the week of Feb. 1. It gave no date on when production could restart.

The Obama administration said it pressed Toyota to protect consumers who own vehicles under recall and to stop building new cars with the problem.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told WGN Radio in Chicago that ''the reason Toyota decided to do the recall and to stop manufacturing was because we asked them to.''

LaHood said the department urged the company to act and credited Toyota for going ''a step above'' by stopping production.

David Strickland, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, told reporters in Washington that the Transportation Department had been in regular communication with Toyota about the recall. He said the company's decision to stop selling the vehicles was ''an aggressive one and one that is the legal and morally correct thing to do.''

''Toyota was complying with the law. They consulted with the agency. We informed them of the obligation and they complied,'' Strickland said. Strickland wouldn't address why Toyota failed to stop selling the vehicles five days earlier when it announced the recall.

The suspect parts are made by a U.S. supplier, but they are also found in its European-made vehicles, an official with the automaker said Wednesday. Toyota said it hasn't decided what to do there.

The supplier is CTS Corp., based in Elkhart, Ind., and the problem part was manufactured at its plant in Ontario, Canada, according to a report Toyota handed to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week.

CTS has not replied to a request for comment sent earlier this week.

Toyota's report said it first received reports in March 2007, of gas pedals being slow to come back in the Tundra pickup, and fixed the problem in February 2008.

Starting in December 2008, similar problems were reported in Europe with the Aygo and Yaris models. Toyota said it lengthened a part and changed the material to fix the problem, starting in August 2009.