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On Eve of Detroit Auto Show, Toyota Embraces Safety with Research Dollars

Posted by Dale Buss on January 10, 2011 11:30 AM

BC's Dale Buss is at the North American International Auto Show (aka NAIAS, or the Detroit Auto Show) and filed this report:

After the company spent nearly $50 million last year in fines related to its safety recalls, Toyota executives want to turn the tables for their brand on the safety issue by investing another $50 million. Only this time, Toyota plans to spend that much investing in safety research at its Michigan-based technical center.

On the eve of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the company announced the opening of its Collaborative Safety Research Center at the Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Driver distraction will be a particular focus of the Collaborative Safety Research Center, Toyota President Akio Toyoda said in a statement.

It will conduct studies over the next five years focused on reducing harm to children, teenagers and seniors from driving and auto accidents, Toyota said, and the company’s own researchers as well as those from colleges and universities scattered around the United States, and eventually from federal agencies.

But Toyota said its research will be done using existing staff and facilities in Ann Arbor.

Not an accident, of course, was the timing of Toyota’s announcement. The company is trying to put 2010 – and its safety-recall woes, loss of market share and dissipation of mojo – behind it as quickly and decisively as possible. Announcing a massive contribution to new safety research ahead of reporters’ questions at the Detroit show this week is one potential way to parry attention to its recall problems.

And the most important judges are American consumers. Toyota executives say that existing Toyota owners, especially, are re-adhering to the brand and its products. This will be a crucial year for the company to re-cement its reputation with everyone else.

Toyota executives will also unwraps new family Prius models today in Detroit — here's a sneak peek, with skateboarder Bob Burnquist:

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