WASHINGTON — Jim Shuker, who tests vehicles for Toyota, says he feels so strongly about quality that he believes he personally failed by not finding the company's acceleration problem.
Shuker was among 23 Toyota workers from across the country who were flown to Washington at company expense to fight Tuesday for their employer's reputation.
They're trying to sway lawmakers just as several congressional committees have launched investigations of Toyota's response – and that of the government – to complaints about sticking gas pedals in numerous models and brakes on the 2010 Prius hybrid.
It's all part of Toyota's attempt to repair its once-stellar, but now tarnished, reputation.
The company is sending the message through its professional lobbyists, its dealers and now the workers who say they're always ready to pull the cord that stops an assembly line if something is wrong.
"I feel I failed customers by not finding this issue," Shuker said of the unintended acceleration problem. "We were not able to duplicate it."
Shuker, who works at Toyota's proving grounds in Wittmann, Ariz., said he was not aware of the problems before they exploded in the media.
Marge Schwendemann, who works at the company's Bodine Aluminum plant in Troy, Mo., is a quality control specialist who said she could confront the facility's top manager any time she finds a flawed engine bracket, cylinder head or cylinder block made there.
She said the company's problems were "blown out of proportion. It's a runaway train."
Fibbiyon Miller, who works in the Huntsville, Ala. plant, said she still has faith in the company and the plant that makes V6 and V8 engines for Toyota trucks.
"Toyota is not on a pedestal any more," she said. "But I think we're still tops in my eyes, high in quality and safety."
Tim Turner, an assembly safety specialist at the Georgetown, Ky. plant, said, "Toyota's my life."
That's why he went to a local dealership several days ago and vacuumed cars so he could reassure customers.
"It's not that you're not going to make mistakes, it's how you handle the problem," he said. Turner predicted that Toyota would use this experience to "create a better system of communication across the whole world."