Toyota dealers are concerned and customers are confused after U.S. Tranportation Secretary Ray LaHood told the owners of recalled Toyotas to stop driving them.
LaHood has since said he misspoke during a House subcommittee hearing, but the about-face has caused more controversy over the issue.
Toyota says owners of the recalled vehicles need to get their cars fixed, but unintended accelleration is rare and can be controlled by steadily applying the brakes and shifting the cars into neutral.
Secretary LaHood may wish he had hit the brakes a little sooner in his remarks on the topic. His comments to a congressional hearing made it sound as though drivers of recalled Toyota vehicles should even consider not driving their cars home from work. He later said he misspoke.
"It's irresponsible. This hysterical comment from Ray LaHood just wasn't appropriate to the situation," said Scott Lambert with the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association.
Lambert says government officials such as LaHood should calm the public during the recall -- not fan people's worries unnecessarily.
"He owes somebody -- Toyota itself and maybe the dealers and certainly the customers -- an apology. It was a dumb thing to say, and he ought to 'fess up that he said something dumb," said Lambert. "To say he misspoke makes it look like he got told to say he misspoke and doesn't really believe it."
But it's not clear how widely shared that outrage is.
At Walser Automotive Group's Toyota store in Bloomington, general manager Charlie Swenson politely dodged a question about whether he's frustrated by LaHood's statement.
"I suppose any time a comment's made that has to be retracted, there's going to be frustration with the comment," said Swenson.
By early afternoon, there was no evidence of upset customers, either.
The service department at the dealership bustled with customers. But they were there for routine service -- not recall work.
Swenson said phone call volume was picking up, but at that point, not due to LaHood's comments.
The dealership posted a notice on its Web site Tuesday that the parts necessary for fixing recalled vehicles would arrive soon. In fact, they came in Wednesday morning. Swenson says that's driving more calls, and will likely lead to more drop-ins.
"I suspect customer traffic related to the recall will increase in the coming hours and into tomorrow," Swenson said.
Walser's service department will also be open Sunday to accommodate all the recall service work.
Toyota is giving U.S. dealers payments ranging from $7,500 to $75,000 to help pay for extending their service hours, and win back customers' trust. Dealers who sold fewer than 500 cars will get $7,500. Dealers who sold more than 4,000 will get $75,000. Toyota has around 1,200 U.S. dealers.
Toyota has taken a big sales hit because of the recall. Monthly sales in January plummeted 16 percent. But the recall didn't stop Lucy Frei and Steve Reilly of Eden Prairie from coming to Walser Toyota to scope out a new Toyota Yaris, one of the models not subject to recall.
"They're tiny little cute cars," Frei said.
Two years ago, Frei and Reilly bought a used Toyota Yaris. The couple now wants to trade up. Frei says the recall hasn't rattled their enthusiasm for Toyota.
"Recalls happen...people screw up. Companies screw up. So I'm not worried about it," Frei said.
Pat Archer, 75, of Duluth wasn't especially worried either. The Corolla she bought in August is on the recall list. Secretary LaHood's comments earlier today did not stoke her concerns about it.
"I've driven today twice and I really don't think about it. It's a possibility, but I'm really not that nervous about it," Archer said.
Wall Street seems less optimistic about the matter. Investors hammered Toyota's stock today, which finished the day down 6 percent.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)