Toyota still pulls loyalists at Baltimore auto show

Baltimore Sun

Wearing a giddy smile, Marian Harrington sat behind the wheel of a gleaming Toyota Camry Sunday, waving from the sunroof of the silver sedan like a daytime game-show winner.

A retired physical therapist from Perry Hall, Harrington, 63, came to the 2010 Motor Trend International Auto Show in Baltimore with her husband to decide on a new car purchase. Even though she clutched a sheet of paper listing the names of nearly a dozen models recently recalled by Toyota, the Harringtons said they would not abandon their favorite car manufacturer.

Toyotas "are great," Harrington said. "They are so well made."

The company can only hope there are many more customers out there like the Harringtons.

Toyota Motor Corp. has recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past few months for problems that include faulty gas pedals and brakes; and other parts that can fail and cause some drivers to lose control. Last month, the company told dealers to halt sales of eight models, including the top-selling Camry and Corolla. The company's woes have dominated news coverage for weeks, and Toyota officials said they are conducting a top-to-bottom quality review.

Despite the recent woes, many auto show patrons inside the Baltimore Convention Center said they planned to stick with the popular automaker.

George Suh, a 46-year-old insurance claims supervisor from Silver Spring, has been pleased with the way Toyota has addressed the recent problems.

"I understand the design flaw. When they explained, I was fine with that," Suh said as his 10-year-old son, Gavin, popped in and out of an Army-green-colored FJ Cruiser. "I understand the negative publicity, but I'm not concerned. Historically they have proven themselves. I'll stay loyal to the brand."

Jillian Bobbs and Bryan Bokey, an engaged couple from Baltimore, are not worried about the recalls. Both said they have had excellent experiences with the company's cars.

"If anybody can take care of it properly, it is Toyota," said Bobbs, a 22-year-old administrative assistant enrolled at the University of Baltimore law school. "They're all about innovation."

The Federal Hill couple currently share a Ford Focus for commuting, and are planning on purchasing a second car - probably a Toyota.

Michael Davis, supervisor of the company's display, was impressed by the number of visitors.

"It has been busy. Incredibly busy," he said.

Several people mentioned recalls, but Davis said it didn't seem to detract from potential customers. "Everyone has been overwhelmingly positive," Davis said.

Davis said SUVs were getting a lot of looks, possibly because of the recent snowfalls.

Snow played a role in Bobbs and Bokey's decision to look at SUVs. "It definitely got us thinking about it," Bokey, a 24-year-old civil engineer, said with a laugh.

The show was noticeably smaller this year, according to a number of longtime attendees.

"The manufacturers are definitely scaling back," Suh said. "It is a clear sign of the times. It is a good reflection of the current economic conditions."

Toyota appeared to be among the flashiest of the automakers participating in the show this year. Saleswomen wore red dresses resembling vintage Star Trek uniforms. Salesmen wore fitted gray suits with button-down dress shirts.

Shelbi Okumura, spokeswoman for the Auto Show, said there were about 350 vehicles displayed during the three-day event, which is a slight decrease from past years.

Snow limited the number of vehicles brought to the show, according to Okumura, and delayed its opening by a day.

Bobbs noticed the difference but still had a good time.

"I love coming here," she said, adding that the visit has become an annual event. "It's a Valentine's Day treat."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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