A month after announcing its biggest single recall ever, Toyota has revealed some new quality problems that will force it to make safety-related repairs on another 2.8 million vehicles – including its high-profile Prius hybrid models.
The news could deliver a further blow to the Japanese giant’s image despite having landed atop the latest Consumer Reports Automotive Reliability Study. It also puts Toyota in a position where it again is vying with Japanese rival Honda for the dubious distinction of having the most vehicles of any manufacturer recalled in the U.S. this year.
The newest recall is the result of a water pump problem and a steering shaft defect. These can result in steering problems with a variety of Toyota products using the components. The maker commonly shares parts on numerous models to reduce costs – but that approach risks the possibility of creating widespread recalls if there’s a problem. In this case, two problems may exist on the same vehicle.
The steering shaft defect is involved in the recall of 1.51 million vehicles in Japan and another vehicles sold in other parts of the world and among the most notable models impacted are the compact Corolla and the Prius, the world’s most popular hybrid. About 670,000 of those vehicles were sold in the U.S. between the 2000 and 2009 model-years.
About 620,000 of those vehicles also may be equipped with the defective water pump. That list includes not only the Prius but four other hybrid models, Toyota confirms. Vehicles that may need both parts repaired were sold between 2001 and 2010 in Japan and from 2003 to 2011 in the U.S. and other overseas markets.
Meanwhile, another 10,000 Toyota vehicles are being recalled solely due to the defective water pump.
The new recall comes as a significant setback for Toyota and for a variety of reasons.
Just a month ago the maker – which is on track to again be the world’s best-selling auto manufacturer – announced its biggest recall ever. A total of 7.43 million vehicles were involved, more than a third of those in the U.S., also making it the largest recall in the world for the past 16 years.
With about 3.2 million vehicles involved in just these two safety repair campaigns, Toyota is now chasing Honda as the most recalled manufacturer in the U.S. The smaller maker earned that unwanted distinction last year but Toyota was top of the list in 2010, primarily as a result of the millions of vehicles that were involved in the so-called “unintended acceleration” scandal that led corporate CEO Akio Toyoda to tearfully testify before the U.S. Congress.
The grandson of Toyota’s founder, Toyoda promised to redouble the company’s focus on quality, reliability and safety. And there are clear signs of improvement. It has scored well on a number of recent studies, including the annual reliability survey by Consumer Reports which tallies the results of millions of the influential magazine’s readers. The maker’s three brands, Scion, Toyota and Lexus, topped the chart, in that order.
But CR officials also noted that they do not consider recalls in their results, despite the potential impact on either quality or reliability.
What’s potentially problematic about the latest recalls is the fact that it includes products sold as recently as the 2011 model-year, after President Toyoda began his much-ballyhooed push to correct Toyota’s quality issues.
Court documents, meanwhile, show that Toyota has spent over $25 million to settle shareholder lawsuits stemming from the unintended acceleration fiasco. It has also been slammed with a number of unfavorable verdicts in lawsuits filed by owners.
Despite the potential tarnishing of its safety image, Toyota continues to rack up sales, with the maker forecasting it will near the milestone 10 million mark for the current fiscal year, which ends on march 31. That led to a tripling of earnings during the most recent quarter.
But Toyota does face other problems, notably a boycott in the booming Chinese market that recently les the maker to slightly cut its overall sales forecast for the year.