Toyota's happy new year stalls after yet more recalls

It may still be the world's biggest car maker. But Toyota's latest recall of 1.7m cars - on top of the 16m recalled last year - shows its problems are far from over.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 11 May 2011
We’re barely a month into 2011, and Toyota is already back in the mire. The car manufacturer has had to recall another 1.7m cars over problems with fuel tanks – apparently, slight cracks have started to appear in fuel pipes, which could cause leaks if they’re left untreated. This doesn’t bode well: last year, it recalled 16m cars, which left its reputation as dented as a P-reg Corolla sold for scrap. After enjoying a relatively positive start to 2011, posting impressive sales figures that allowed it to cling on to its position as the world’s biggest car-maker, this latest episode dissolves any optimism at a stroke. Again…

The recalls apparently affect certain Lexus and Avensis vehicles built between 1996 and 1999. They’ll only affect a few thousand drivers in the UK, but according to three separate filings with Japan’s Transportation Ministry, 1.3m cars will be recalled in Japan. In fact, one of those filings was for 1.203m vehicles, which gives it the dubious accolade of the second biggest single recall a Japanese car maker has ever issued in its home country. Not a certificate that’ll be going up in the boardroom, we presume.

Toyota was very keen to point out that while there have been 140 reports of the problem in Japan, it hasn’t actually caused any accidents yet. But the company isn’t taking chances after last year, when faulty brakes in one of its cars caused a fatal accident in the US. The fall-out was massive: not only was the company hit with a record $16.4m fine for failing to inform US transportation authorities of the faults in time, but CEO Akio Toyoda was forced into a fairly unpleasant public appearance in Washington to answer questions about the company’s safety record. Later, the company was also forced to shell out another $32.4m over its handling of the recalls, plus a $10m settlement to the family of the car crash victims.

This is undoubtedly a setback, particularly after Toyota made a promising start to the year. Earlier this week it emerged that the company beat General Motors to the title of world’s largest carmaker for the third year in a row – despite all those recalls, it managed to flog 8.49m vehicles, with Japanese sales faring particularly well. This raised hopes that it could finally start putting the events of 2010 behind it. But no such luck, apparently.

Toyota has a difficult line to tread here. If it wants to start repairing the damage recent events have done to its reputation, it really needs to put an end to this seemingly endless stream of bad-news stories. On the one hand, after last year, it can’t afford to be anything but ultra-cautious on anything to do with safety…


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