– //Toyota Extends Auto Development Time//

(Toyota City, Japan)

(c) 2010, Bloomberg News

TOYOTA CITY, Japan – Toyota is taking more time to develop cars and trucks and faces higher expenses as the world’s largest carmaker seeks enhanced vehicle quality following its worst recall crisis.

The company is spending an average of four weeks more on development to allow for added quality checks and has expanded its quality review group to 1,000 engineers, Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada told reporters Wednesday in Toyota City, where the automaker is based. Such efforts will probably increase costs for the next year or two, he said.

“Temporarily, the cost might increase,” said Uchiyamada, who is leading Toyota’s product quality and manufacturing operations. “But by improving the development process, we’ll better stabilize quality.”

Toyota is working to regain a reputation for quality after recalling about 8 million vehicles worldwide for defects linked to unintended acceleration. It’s also preparing to recall 270,000 Lexus and Toyota cars for a flaw that may cause engines to stall, and faces further questions from a congressional committee about its models.

The average vehicle development time for a model for the Japanese market has been 24 months, Uchiyamada said.

Toyota in May created the “design quality innovation division” that’s now working with vehicle development teams to ensure flaws are caught and corrected before models go into production, Katsutoshi Sakata, the group’s general manager, told reporters today.

Recalls have hurt Toyota’s U.S. sales and market share. Toyota for June reported a 6.8 percent increase from a year earlier, compared with the industrywide gain of 14 percent and Hyundai’s 35 percent surge. Toyota’s first-half U.S. sales rose 9.9 percent, trailing the industry’s 17 percent.

Toyota has also fallen behind Ford in the U.S., with market share of 15.1 percent, down 0.9 percentage point from a year earlier, while Ford’s has risen to 17.5 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

Along with increased reviews of components, engines, transmissions and electronics, Toyota is spending more time with customers as part of the development process to understand how they use the vehicles in daily driving, Sakata said.

“Under the current difficult situation, we want to know, what were the phenomenon that caused problems,” Uchiyamada said.

The carmaker in April recalled Lexus GX sport-utility vehicles for a handling defect found by Consumer Reports magazine and is completing repairs of cars and trucks worldwide for the flaws linked to unintended acceleration.