What a difference a year makes, especially for Toyota.
As 2008 drew to a close, the headlines highlighted the fact that the Japanese giant had finally toppled its American arch-rival, General Motors, to become the globe’s largest auto manufacturer. It seemed, for at least a brief while, that almost nothing could go wrong.
Now, it’s fair to say that 2009 wasn’t a good year for just about anyone in the auto business. With the American market plunging to its lowest level in 30 years, only three niche players will end up posting sales gains from already weak ’08. But few have suffered the humiliating body blows that have hammered away at Toyota, plunging the maker’s balance sheet deep into the red and which are, perhaps worse long-term, threatening to shatter Toyota’s image as the maker of the industry’s safest and most reliable products.
There’s no question that Toyota has had a few key successes over the past 12 months, including the launch of the compact Venza crossover. And after the collapse of the hybrid market once U.S. fuel prices plunged in early ’09, the debut of the third-generation Prius promised to not only kick-start the segment but lock down Toyota’s standing as the world’s top-selling hybrid brand.
So, it’s ironic that the Prius could scrape the chrome off Toyota’s shining image. As TheDetroitBureau.com is reporting, a sizable number of Prius owners are reporting potentially serious problems with the hybrid’s brakes.