Toyota forced into yet more recalls - this time over brake problems

Another blow for embattled carmaker Toyota, which has just had to make its 14th safety recall this year...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012
Poor Toyota: just when things had apparently gone quiet on the safety front, it’s been forced into its 14th recall of the year, this time over brake problems. The company has been forced to recall 1.5m Lexuses (Lexi?), Avalons and Highlanders - including 17,000 in the UK - after it found fluid leaking from the brake lines on some of its models. Toyota had seemed to be bouncing back a dreadful year – including a Congressional appearance for CEO Akio Toyoda, after the company was accused of failing to act on safety problems that led to 19 deaths – but its problems are clearly not over yet…

As with the July recall, which also affected the Lexus, this particular problem doesn't actually seemed to have caused any accidents – apparently, the leakage is so gradual that once a fault occurs, the driver has about 200 miles before the brakes conk out. But, with brakes being one of the more crucial safety features on cars, this won't come as a massive inducement to buy Toyota as far as consumers are concerned - especially after its previous issues with its engine control system (sounds important) and valve springs (probably also quite useful).

Toyota has been trying to repair its reputation lately by showing reassuring ads extolling the virtues of its cars’ safety records. Earlier this year, it released stats showing the number of complaints about sudden acceleration - one of the issues highlighted by those deaths - has fallen by 80% since April (shame about the other 20%), while dealers have apparently already repaired 3.7m of the 6m cars in the US that are covered by its two biggest recalls.

Its first quarter results, released in August, were also encouraging: it made a ¥190.47bn (£1.4bn) profit, compared to a loss of ¥77.82bn a year before. And despite those safety issues, sales had surged by 27% to ¥4.872tr, with a 30% increase in revenues. Even in the US, it saw sales increase by a third – so consumers can’t have been that put off.

Still: this latest episode represents further evidence of a change in car manufacturers’ attitudes. Since Toyota was hit by a $16m fine after that Congress hearing, we’ve seen the number of voluntary (i.e. not forced by governments) recalls jump – presumably because they don’t want to meet the same fate. Toyota’s recent recalls may have been for relatively minor issues, but the consequences of not doing so, and an accident subsequently happening, would be absolutely disastrous for its reputation. So it doesn’t really have much choice.

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