President of Toyota's Georgetown plant says workers take recalls personally

The president of Toyota's plant in Georgetown says workers there are taking personally the series of recalls that have wracked the world's No. 1 automaker in recent weeks.

But Steve St. Angelo — who since 2006 has led the automaker's largest North American assembly plant, where the recalled Camry and Avalon models are made — is confident Toyota will rebound and that customers will stick with the brand.

"We are still Toyota," he says.

St. Angelo, an auto industry veteran who previously worked for General Motors, answered several questions this week via e-mail about how the plant has reacted during the recall.

Question: How has the atmosphere changed at the Georgetown plant since the recall was announced?

Answer: Our team members take it very personally. They have a lot of pride in what they do, and they have been doing it successfully longer than any other fully owned Toyota plant in North America. Team members are genuinely concerned and want to help do everything in their power to keep the trust of our customers.

Q: Given that Toyota sales fell in January and experts estimate that it could take a few years to fully recover from the recall's damage, how do you think the Georgetown plant will respond to this lower demand?

A: I'm an optimistic person, so I'm not ready to concede anything right now.

We just announced to our team members that Feb. 26 will be a non-production day, and we could have a couple more in the weeks ahead.

I have personally talked to a lot of our customers around Central Kentucky. I still get a strong sense of loyalty from them. I think they will stick with us. We are still Toyota.

Q: When someone criticizes Toyota workmanship, how do you respond?

A: Again, we take it personally. We know that we have attracted customers because of our quality, reliability and dependability. We are doing everything we can, as fast as we can, to make sure this does not happen again and to earn back our customers' trust.

Q: How has the impact of the recall's effect on manufacturing differed in Georgetown as opposed to other plants?

A: You have to remember that some of our team members here in Georgetown have been with us for 20 years or more. This has been their livelihood, and they have seen the company grow and be very successful.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky has won more J.D. Power Quality Awards than any other plant in North America. But all of our team members across North America take the recalls personally.

Q: Is it more of a culture shock in Georgetown, given the length of time it has been affiliated with Toyota as opposed to other affected plants?

A: I just think everyone in the Toyota family feels concern for our customers. Because we have such a great track record for building high-quality vehicles is why we all take it so personally.

The outpouring of support we have received from the communities around Kentucky, including community leaders and our Kentucky delegation, has been quite encouraging and appreciated.

Q: Given your past work with GM, what is the executive atmosphere like at Toyota in handling recalls compared to GM?

A: Probably the biggest difference is that we stopped sales and stopped production so we could focus on solving the problem and fixing it for our customers.

The recent focus on Toyota often ignores the fact that all vehicle manufacturers conduct recalls, including recent significant recalls in the United States by Honda, Ford and General Motors.

All companies have recalls, but it's bigger news when Toyota does. Maybe it's because we have a 50-year history of providing Americans with high-quality, safe, reliable vehicles, and what's most important for us now is living up to those high standards customers expect from us.

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