McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

HACKENSACK, N.J. – After the recalls, apologies and lost sales, Toyota Motor Sales Inc. dealers welcomed news that the federal government has so far found no evidence of electronic problems causing sudden acceleration.

“We’ve been believing all along that there’s nothing really wrong with our vehicles,” said Michael DeLaCruz, general manager of Parkway Toyota in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told Congress last week that preliminary findings of the agency’s investigation showed no electronic defects. Drivers failed to apply the brakes in 35 of 58 crashes tied to unintended acceleration, the agency found.

Bill Strauss, president of Crestmont Toyota in Pompton Plains, N.J., said the report reinforced his theory that the government overstated safety concerns with Toyotas to boost sales of domestic carmakers.

“I thought in this country we were innocent until proven guilty — but not if you’re a carmaker,” Strauss said.

Fred Radulic, general manager of Toyota of Hackensack, called the government findings “great news.” That dealership saw sales plunge this year when news of the potential dangerous defect spread, Radulic said. In February, he said, the dealership sold about 80 cars, down from the 250 that roll off the lot in a typical month.

Service revenue from recall-related repairs helped offset a drop in sales revenue, and the dealership’s sales surged the next month to more than 400 vehicles, he said. While sales have bounced back, he added: “You still lost a lot of revenue and sales.”

Despite its global recall, Toyota posted strong earnings for the three-month period ended June 30, the first quarter of its 2011 fiscal year.

As sales rose, the Japanese company swung to profitability in the quarter, earning $2.2 billion compared with a loss of $900 million in the same period the year before.

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