Toyota knew about Lexus problem

2010-07-06 09:24

Toyota knew two years ago about the engine problem behind its

latest Lexus recall, even changing the spring part to correct it, but did not

think a recall was warranted until recently, a company official said

today.

Toyota Motor Corporation yesterday started a global recall over

engine defects in its Lexus luxury models sold around the world, as well as the

Crown sold in Japan, moving to repair some 270 000 vehicles to replace valve

springs – crucial engine components that are flawed and could cause vehicles to

stall.

In August 2008, Toyota changed that spring part, making it thicker,

to prevent the problem, spokesperson Hideaki Homma said.

That is why the latest recall does not affect vehicles produced

after August 2008.

Toyota, the world’s top auto manufacturer, previously thought the

problem was caused by a foreign substance entering during manufacturing of the

valve springs, and beefed up checks so that won’t happen. But the company had

thought the issue was an isolated problem that didn’t require a recall.

Homma said: “We changed the part in August because then the problem

won’t happen at all, even if tiny particles enter during manufacturing. We are

talking about microscopic particles here.”

But the complaints started climbing and Toyota decided recently

they weren’t isolated problems after all, but a design defect, and decided to

issue the recall, Homma said.

Toyota has promised to recall problem cars more quickly to salvage

a once pristine reputation now in tatters after recalls ballooned to more than

8.5 million vehicles around the world since October last year.

Toyota executives have repeatedly vowed to put customers first. But

it has been criticised as lagging in its response to quality lapses and was

slapped with a record $16.4 million (about R126 million) in the United States

for responding too slowly when the recall crisis erupted.

Auto analyst Koji Endo at Advanced Research Japan said auto-makers

routinely improve parts and technology when a product is re-modelled, and the

facts don’t necessarily point to an intentional cover-up.

But he said that recall after recall at Toyota was devastating for

its image, underlining how it had not properly paid attention to quality during

its booming expansion years.

He said: “They are paying for that now. Demand had been surging and

so it was difficult to balance that with maintaining quality.”

Endo said the popularity of the Lexus was likely to drop in the US,

giving a chance for growth to luxury rivals BMW and Mercedes-Benz amid a

gradually recovering market.

Affected in the latest recall were Lexus models GS350, GS450h,

GS460, IS350, LS460, LS600h, LS600hL and Crown models, including about 138 000

vehicles in the US, nearly 92000 in Japan, 15 000 in Europe, 10 000 in the

Middle East, 6 000 in China, 4 000 in Canada, and 8 000 elsewhere.

Toyota has received about 200 complaints but no accidents due to

the defects have been reported.

The latest woes come on top of a recall last week for 17 000 Lexus

hybrids after testing showed fuel can spill during a rear-end crash.

Toyota faces more than 200 lawsuits in the US tied to accidents

involving defective automobiles, the lower resale value of Toyota vehicles and a

drop in its stock value.


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