H-CENTRAL COAST

Apr 23, 2011 2:05 AM by Ariel Wesler

Production problems mean smaller selections at local Toyota dealerships

Toyota announced today it will not return to normal production levels until November or December.

The world's largest automaker has been hurt by production problems since the 9.0 earthquake hit Japan. On top of that, it's still facing more safety recalls. Auto analysts say Toyota will likely lose its top spot to General Motors.

Production problems for Toyota will mean fewer cars at dealerships on the Central Coast.

"Typically the summer months are our busy selling season to begin with and now with fewer and fewer vehicles coming through the dealership, it'll just get tighter and leaner," said Carl Deriso, General Manager of Toyota of Santa Maria. "We do expect maybe the selection of models or the selection of colors to not quite be at the same levels that they typically are this time of year," Deriso said.

But Deriso says current customers shouldn't expect to see problems will vehicle service.

"They're not anticipating a shortage on parts whatsoever for our existing service customers," Deriso said.

The company's president Akio Toyoda apologized to customers for all the delays since the earthquake, but the automaker is still struggling with safety recalls. This time, it's an airbag problem with some 2008 Highlanders and 2007 through 2008 Rav4's sold in the U.S. Owners of the affected vehicles will receive a recall notice in the mail next month.

Meanwhile, Japanese automakers like Nissan are doing voluntary radiation checks before their exporting their vehicles on cargo ships.Several countries have raised concerns about radiation leaks from northern Japan.

Last year, Toyota sold 8.4 million cars, just a few hundred thousand more than general motors. If GM does take the lead, it would be a huge morale boost and cap off a remarkable comeback from bankruptcy almost two years ago.

General Motors was the world's largest automaker from 1932 until 2008.

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