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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2011

Toyota recall of 1.7M cars globally may erode trust

Toyota Motor Corp. Wednesday recalled nearly 1.7 million cars worldwide for possible fuel leaks, the latest in a ballooning number of quality problems that could further tarnish the company's reputation in the United States.

The recalls are mostly in Japan, but include fewer than 300,000 Lexus IS and GS luxury sedans sold in North America, where the world's No. 1 car company faces the biggest challenges in winning back trust.

Meanwhile, Ford Motor Co. Wednesday recalled more than 425,300 Windstar minivans in cold-weather states to fix brackets and mounts which could separate from the vehicle's subframe and cause a driver to lose control. The recall, the latest quality issue to afflict older Windstars, covered minivans from the 1999-2003 model years sold or registered in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Ford said there had been seven crashes and five minor injuries connected to the recall.

For its recall, Toyota dealers in the United States will inspect cars to see whether loose fuel pressure sensors caused leaks. There were no accidents suspected of being caused by those problems, according to Toyota. It has received 77 complaints overseas, 75 in North America, and more than 140 in Japan.

Of the latest recall, 1.3 million of the vehicles were sold in Japan. In North America, covered are 2006 through 2007 Lexus GS300/350, 2006 through early 2009 Lexus IS250, and 2006 through early 2008 Lexus IS350.

The latest quality hitch follows a spate of recalls that began in late 2009, mostly in North America, which now cover more than 12 million cars and trucks. The recalls involve defective floor mats and gas pedals that get stuck, some of them suspected of causing unintended acceleration.

Wednesday's action came exactly one year after Toyota stopped selling eight models in the United States because of unintended acceleration problems. The sales suspension affected 60 percent of Toyota's lineup in the United States, and was the first of four sales halts last year.

Koji Endo, auto analyst with Advanced Research Japan Co. in Tokyo, said the newest recalls will cost Toyota about $240 million, but won't hurt its earnings much.

"But there is that perception of here we go again, and that hurts Toyota's image, especially in North America," he said.

The biggest damage to Toyota's image has been in the United States, where its response to safety problems was seen as slow. The company's U.S. sales lagged last year despite an industry recovery. Some believe that Toyota's relentless drive for growth hurt quality.

A survey by consumer Web site Edmunds.com showed that 17.9 percent of all U.S. car shoppers last month were considering a Toyota, a 3.8 percentage point drop from a year earlier. That could be blamed on Toyota's recalls, as well as its aging lineup.

On the Ford recall, the problem affects brackets and mounts connected to the front subframe, which carries the engine, transaxle, steering rack, and front suspension. NHTSA said in a posting on its Web site that if the mounts separated from the frame, a driver could experience reduced steering control. The recall is for cars in states where road salt is used in winter, including Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

The automaker has recalled more than 600,000 of the minivans in the United States and Canada since August to address rear axles that can corrode and break. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also has been investigating corrosion problems in the minivans from the 1999-2003 model years. The Transportation Department said Wednesday that the minivans were still under review by the agency.



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