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Toyota unveils repairs plan

WASHINGTON, Feb 1 – Toyota\’s US arm on Monday said it would start fixing a technical glitch in its cars this week after recalling millions of vehicles in a public-relations nightmare for the world\’s top car maker.

Toyota\’s US unit said the Japanese company had "developed and rigorously tested" a fix to the problem with accelerator pedals in faulty models and had also come up with "an effective solution" for vehicles currently in production.

"I want to sincerely apologize. I know that the recall has caused many of you concerns and for that I am truly sorry … I know that we let you down," Jim Lentz, president of Toyota\’s US sales arm, told US business channel CNBC.

Lentz said the fix could be completed "in a short period of time depending on work force of your dealership. We hope to start these repairs in just a few days. Owners will be notified by mail when to set up a proper appointment."

Toyota pulled up to 1.8 million vehicles in Europe on Friday, the latest in a series of recalls that has affected almost eight million Toyota cars worldwide — more than its entire 2009 global sales of 7.8 million vehicles.

The company has also temporarily halted US production of eight models.

The scandal has hit Toyota\’s vaunted reputation for quality and safety, analysts said, and executives were going into damage-control mode on Monday by announcing what the company said was a "comprehensive plan" to fix the problem.

The company said that in rare cases, the pedal mechanism could become worn and harder to depress, or get stuck in a partially depressed position.

Toyota engineers have been putting the finishing touches to a repair to insert a "spacer" in the pedal mechanism, in order to increase the tension in a spring and reduce the risk of the pedal staying down.

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Toyota, which overtook General Motors in 2008 as the top-selling automaker, has been beset by a series of safety issues that critics say raise questions about whether it sacrificed its legendary quality to become number one.

Toyota\’s president Akio Toyoda kept a low profile last week as the company, founded by his grandfather over 70 years ago, battled to contain the fallout.

In his first public remarks since the recall went global, the Toyota family scion gave a brief apology to a Japanese television crew on Saturday.

"We\’re extremely sorry to have made customers feel uneasy," Toyoda told public broadcaster NHK on the sidelines of the Davos forum in Switzerland.

The 53-year-old boss — named a year ago to steer the Japanese automaker through the global economic downturn — faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet handling the safety recall.

Toyota\’s shares suffered another drop Monday, declining 1.1 percent to 3,450 yen. The stock plunged about 14 percent last week.

Also on Monday, France\’s PSA Peugeot Citroen said it would recall 97,000 Peugeot 107s and Citroen C1s made in a Czech factory it shares with Toyota.

It said the recall was a precautionary measure and affected European car owners who would be informed of the problem by mail.

The compact models are exclusively produced in the plant in the Czech town of Kolin, and are chiefly destined for European markets, a PSA spokesman said.

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