Despite safety recalls, customers still head into Toyota of Glendale showroom

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Between the Super Bowl and word that thousands of Prius hybrids could soon join the millions of vehicles already being recalled, Sunday threatened to be an awful day at Toyota of Glendale.

But a slow stream of customers headed into its Brand Boulevard showroom throughout the morning and early afternoon. Some were looking for bargains, some for answers and some loyal customers were looking to buy.

This weekend a company spokesman said Toyota was considering recalling its 2010 Prius hybrids because of problems with the anti-lock brake system. The company said its plan to repair the brakes would be announced this week.

Among the frazzled customers was Marlon Hilario, who said his 2010 Highlander was under two recalls to prevent sudden unintended acceleration -- one for the floor mats and another for gas pedals prone to sticking.

Rather than have the dealership fix the problems -- its service department is offering extended hours to make repairs -- Hilario spent much of the afternoon negotiating to exchange his vehicle for a 4Runner that has not been recalled.

Hilario, a 26-year-old wholesale jewelry salesman, said he bought the large sports utility vehicle because of its safety record. Even though he has experienced no problems with the Highlander, the recall had him worried enough to trade it in.

“The 4Runner is going to make me feel safe because it’s not included in the recall,” Hilario said, clutching his 14-month-old son, Jaden. “Everybody makes mistakes. It’s not going to stop me from driving Toyotas again.”

By noon, the Glendale dealership had made three sales. Sales staff members said they thought business was on par with previous Super Bowl Sundays. On Saturday the dealership moved 15 cars, the sales staff said.

“We’ve been selling,” one salesman said, asking not be identified because of a dealership policy that prohibits them from speaking to the news media. “A lot of my customers are from the Philippines, where Toyota has 90% penetration, and they’ve been driving Toyotas for 20 to 30 years. They’re not affected by this. They know Toyotas are good cars.”

Toyota took the unprecedented step Jan. 26 of halting sales of eight models -- including its top-selling Camry and Corolla -- saying their gas pedals can get stuck and cause runaway acceleration. The automaker also shut down production of the vehicles for a week while it worked to resolve the problem.

Toyota resumed selling the vehicles Thursday after determining how to fix the pedals.

The affected models -- the Corolla, RAV4, Matrix, Avalon, Highlander, Tundra, Sequoia and certain Camry sedans -- represented 57% of Toyota’s U.S. sales last year.

Included among the rows of new cars available for purchase at Toyota of Glendale were a dozen Camrys, four Corollas and five Priuses, which have had brake system problems that have the Japanese manufacturer considering yet another recall. Yellow stickers marked OK had been pasted onto the windshields of the cars deemed safe for sale.

One loyal customer not concerned about the recalls was Vartan Ayan, who accompanied his brother-in-law to the dealership to purchase a used 2008 Sienna minivan.

“We like Toyotas. This is the best car, and I don’t believe what they’re saying,” said Ayan, a Glendale resident. “I gave my Toyota [a 2008 Camry] to my son. I ask him every day, ‘How is the car? The pedal? Any problems?’ He says, ‘No, Dad. Everything is good.’ ”

Another customer test-drove a 2010 Prius, but left the dealership without inking a deal.

“They’re under so much scrutiny right now they have to follow through,” said the customer, who identified himself as Lon but declined to provide his last name. “It’s also an opportunity to get a good deal.”

About a mile away, at Colonial Honda on Glendale Boulevard, Honda salesman Arthur Avakyan said he and his co-workers were benefiting from Toyota’s troubles.

“People care about safety, especially families,” Avakyan said. “We get a lot of cross-shoppers. They compare Civic to Corolla, Camry to Accord. I’ve had some customers that were concerned about the recall. There have been a few sales from Toyota customers.

“I have some friends that sell Toyotas. It’s tough for them because of that. It’s hard to sell a vehicle that has been recalled.”