Toyota dealers on front line of fixing company's image

As news of Toyota's massive recalls sent customers scrambling for answers, Town & Country Toyota hired extra workers to answer the phones.

The Charlotte dealership added an extra technician, service writer and porter – whose sole job is to shuttle cars back and forth to the service bays – and stayed open late. It even shifted its efforts from boosting slow February sales to reassuring existing Toyota owners in the wake of the automaker’s troubles, general manager Steve O’Kane said.

"We didn't make the cars. But you spend your hard-earned money to come to us, so we're the point of contact," he said from the dealership, which has performed 1,250 repairs so far. "We're the ones on the front line right now."

Toyota's top officials took questions from Congress this week, but in Charlotte and around the country, the dealers are the face of the problem, working to repair the company's image with around-the-clock service, personal phone calls, even manicures in the showroom.

Many longtime Toyota owners are fiercely loyal and defend the company, saying they’ll continue to buy its cars. Yet dealers and experts say younger customers, undecided car-shoppers and others disillusioned by the recalls could stifle sales in the short term – especially as competitors such as Ford, Honda and Hyundai launch aggressive efforts to capitalize.

Read more of this story at CharlotteObserver.com

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