Toyota Halts Sales Of Popular Models To Fix Seat Heaters – Forbes

Posted: Friday, January 31, 2014

There’s never a good time for car problems. But with much of the country in the midst of a deep freeze, Toyota Motor today ordered dealers to stop selling many of its U.S.-built models — including the top-selling Camry sedan — because the seat heaters don’t comply with U.S. safety standards.

The temporary sales stop — a potentially costly action — includes all new Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, Camry, Camry Hybrid, Corolla, Sienna, Tacoma and Tundra vehicles equipped with seat heaters, the Japanese automaker said. For now, only vehicles in showrooms, or en route to dealerships, need to be retrofitted. Production will continue, and Toyota offered no advice about whether current owners should stop using their heated seats in this cold weather.

It was Korean regulators who discovered that the seats in Toyota’s U.S. built vehicles weren’t manufactured according to U.S. safety specifications. (Toyota exports some cars from the U.S. to other countries.) Toyota spokesman John Hanson explained that the fabric to which the heating element is attached does not meet flame-retardant standards. The government requires the fabric to retard flame at a certain rate.

Korean regulators notified Toyota, which alerted the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the non-compliance and said it would immediately stop sales of the vehicles until those in the pipeline were retrofitted. Hanson emphasized that “there have been absolutely no incidents related to this.”

Toyota has filed a petition with NHTSA arguing that the non-compliance is “inconsequential” to safety. If NHTSA agrees, Toyota sales may resume and no further action will be needed. If not, NHTSA may launch an investigation that could potentially lead to a recall.

Until then, said Hanson, “we cannot sell any of those vehicles until we equip them with a seat heater that does comply with (the) code.”

Jack Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said Toyota, to its credit, was being pro-active. “Putting a sales-stop on high-volume vehicles is a serious and costly decision, but the Japanese automaker seems intent on doing everything it can to allay consumer fears about what at this stage is only a potential problem,” he said. “Since there have been no reports of incidents related to the issue, …Toyota is exhibiting an abundance of caution.

Toyota said about 36,000  affected vehicles are in U.S. dealer stock, or about 13% of all cars on dealers’ lots. The company doesn’t yet know how many more vehicles are en route to dealers, whether in factory holding yards, on car carriers, or in ports, awaiting export.

Hanson said the company is already producing replacement heaters using approved fabrics, and doesn’t expect the retrofitting to disrupt production.

More problematic, he said, has been the weather, which has paralyzed many southern states where Toyota and other automakers have factories.


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