WASHINGTON - Thirty-one percent of Americans now think Toyota and Lexus vehicles are not safe to ride, while 55 percent say the carmaker dragged its feet in responding to potential safety defects, according to a poll published on Tuesday.
The USA Today/Gallup survey of 2,021 adults showed fewer doubts among current Toyota owners, with only 14 percent saying the cars are unsafe. A large majority of owners -- 74 percent -- say they have not lost confidence in the vehicles.
Pollsters said findings also suggest enduring loyalty to Toyota vehicles among prospective U.S. car buyers generally. While 17 percent of prospective buyers said they would no longer consider a Toyota vehicle, 53 percent said they would.
The poll, conducted February 27-28, has a 3 percentage point margin of error.
Toyota has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles globally due to uncontrolled acceleration and braking glitches that have hurt its reputation for quality and shone a spotlight on vehicle safety issues.
The company is facing a slide in U.S. sales after recalling more than 6 million vehicles in that market alone.
Tuesday's poll was released ahead of a U.S. Senate Commerce Committee hearing at which Toyota Motor Corp's North America President Yoshimi Inaba was expected to discuss new quality changes that give safety a sharper focus in vehicle design.
Gallup said U.S. consumer loyalty may be due in part to the fact that relatively few Toyota owners claim to be affected by the recalls. Just 14 percent said their vehicle appeared on the recall list for gas pedal problems, while 70 percent said their car was not on the list.
The U.S. government got slightly higher marks for its response to safety problems than the company did.
While 55 percent of those surveyed said Toyota did not move quickly enough, 42 percent said the federal government's response was slow while 37 percent said the government response was about right.
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