Editor’s Note: This story has been revised to reflect a last-minute Honda action and final federal recall numbers for 2011.
It isn’t always good to be number one, as Toyota clearly understands. While it slipped from first to third in the global automotive sales sweepstakes when the books are closed on 2011 the Japanese giant might be more pleased that it narrowly missed having the most recalls of any automaker in the U.S. for the third year in a row.
That dubious distinction now goes to Honda, which expanded its ongoing series of airbag defect-related actions to end the year having recalled 3.8 million vehicles. Honda closed 2011 with 15 separate campaigns compared to Toyota’s still sizable 13.
Despite the maker’s claim that it has put its quality and safety problems behind it, Toyota — and its Scion and Lexus brands — still were forced to recall 3.5 million vehicles this past year, significantly more than the third-highest manufacturer on the government’s list. And that doesn’t include a sizable number of vehicles for which the maker issued technical service bulletins, which encouraged dealers to fix nagging problems that didn’t wind up getting tallied on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s formal recall chart.
In all, automakers recalled 15.5 million light vehicles in 2011, according to an analysis by WardsAuto, a sharp decline from the 20 million year before when the industry – largely due to Toyota — saw callbacks jump to 17.2 million cars, trucks and crossovers. Toyota alone had 7 million vehicles involved in its 2010 campaigns. The worst year for the auto industry was 2000 when 24.3 million vehicles were involved in safety-related recalls.