Toyota is recalling more than 6.5m cars worldwide to fix a variety of problems, including faulty steering wheels and seats.
The company said there had been no reported accidents or injuries relating to the problems identified. Some 27 Toyota models are affected, including the Corolla, RAV4, Hilux, Yaris, Tacoma, Urban Cruiser and Scion xD.
The global recall tally is a huge blow to the world’s biggest selling carmaker that has seen its reputation battered by a string of damaging recalls.
Since early 2012, the company has recalled around 20m vehicles and sold 18.7m. The latest recall is not even the biggest in a single day: in October 2012 it was forced to call back 7.43m cars, mostly the Yaris and Corolla models to fix faulty window switches.
Toyota’s reputation has not fully recovered since a faulty accelerator pedal led to it taking 10m cars off the road in 2009-10. The company later admitted the faults were caused by over-hasty expansion, and last month was fined $1.2bn (£720m) by US regulators over an investigation into misleading statements the company had made about safety problems with its cars.
“Each announcement puts another dent in Toyota’s efforts to recover its reputation and resurrects questions about the impact of its strategy of rapid expansion on previously enviable standards of design and production quality,” said Peter Shervington, an associate specialising in product liability and recall at Eversheds law firm.
David Bailey, a car industry expert at Aston Business School in Coventry said Toyota was being more responsive after being “badly scarred” by not being seen to respond fast enough to the pedal problems in 2009-10. “The scale of the [current] recall is a big one but if they can identify a fix and communicate it to customers, customers aren’t going to be too bothered.”
Most of the affected cars in the current recall are in North America, with 825,000 in Europe (35,000 in the UK), and 300,000 in Australia, where the recall affects the Hilux “utes” and Yaris city cars.
In the UK, the recall affects some 25,000 RAV4 and Hilux models bought between June 2004 and December 2010; these cars have a faulty connection from the steering wheel to the airbag, meaning that a certain turn of the wheel could cause the airbag to deactivate. “If connectivity is lost, the airbag warning light will illuminate on the instrument panel and the driver’s airbag may be deactivated,” the company said. In the US, that problem affects 1.3m vehicles, including certain models of the Corolla.
Toyota has also found a problem with the sliding mechanism in the front passenger seat of some models of the Yaris and the Urban Cruiser – sold in the US as the Scion xD – meaning they could break with repeated use. “Should the spring break, the seat may not lock into its adjusted position, and could move in the event of a crash,” the company said.
This problem with the seat mechanism affects 10,263 UK-registered vehicles built between January 2005 and August 2010.
Toyota said the recall figure rises to 6.76m when the some models of the Pontiac Vibe and the Subaru Trezia are taken into account. The Pontiac Vibe, a General Motors model, is involved because Toyota and GM made cars at the same plant in California and the recalled model is the same as the Toyota Matrix. Subaru is partly owned by Toyota, and the model was the same as the Toyota Ractis.
The company said it would contact customers in the coming weeks to make an appointment for the free repairs. Drivers can check if their vehicle is affected by using a registration number search function on the Toyota website.
GM under-fire too
The latest recall comes one day after General Motors was accused of “a culture of cover-up” by a US senator for failing to own up fast enough to faulty ignition switches implicated in 13 deaths.
A source who advises the car industry on recalls, said recalls were getting bigger because car manufacturers were using common components across their range of models. “The consumer is starting to twig this strategy: they believe they have bought a unique car, but it is actually quite similar to 18 others.”
Transparency over recalls could be improved, the source said, by requiring carmakers in their annual reports “to discuss their processes and mechanisms to make sure consumers are protected by the highest degree”, as well as better information sharing between international regulators. “Our drivers are just the same as American drivers, as Japanese drivers, and there is a need for national regulators to agree forceful action on a global footing.”
The car industry’s quest for the cheapest components, was also a factor in the recent spate of recalls, said professor Bailey. “Some companies went for a low-cost, aggressive cost-cutting strategy which went for looking for different components across different parts of the world… that may be lowest cost but exposes you to more risk when things go wrong.”
Several companies, especially Japanese carmakers, were now reassessing where they source car parts and make their vehicles, Bailey said. “This offers an opportunity for the UK to re-shore some of its activity and bring it back.”