Toyota acts after SUV labeled 'safety risk'
Toyota has asked Lexus dealers in North America to halt sales of GX 460 sport-utility vehicles after Consumer Reports labeled the model a "safety risk," the magazine’s first such designation in nine years.
“We are taking the situation with the GX 460 very seriously and are determined to identify and correct the issue Consumer Reports identified,” Mark Templin, US general manager for the luxury brand, said in an email.
The 2010 GX 460 received the designation and a “don’t buy” recommendation because emergency driving tests indicated it may be prone to rollover accidents, Consumer Reports said yesterday.
The non-profit magazine, published by Yonkers, New York-based Consumers Union, said it hadn’t deemed any other vehicle a safety risk since 2001.
The rating complicates Toyota’s efforts to repair its image after recalling more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for defects linked to unintended acceleration and brakes, actions that led to US congressional hearings and a rebuke by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
The US assessed a $16.4m penalty against Toyota for delaying a recall of sticky accelerator pedals and said there may be more fines.
“Consumer Reports is a large and noteworthy publication with legions of fans, and therefore we can expect the ‘headline’ effect will take another round’s toll, much to Toyota’s chagrin,” James Bell, an executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book, said in an email.
The magazine’s report “may ‘scratch the scab’ before healing was complete,” Bell said.
Toyota was unchanged at 3,705 yen as of 12:38pm in Tokyo trading, compared with a 0.3pc gain in the Nikkei 225 Stock Average.
The GX’s rear end “slid out until the vehicle was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control” at a Connecticut test track, the magazine said.
“In real-world driving, that situation could lead to a rollover accident, which could cause serious injury or death,” Consumer Reports said.
Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, said its engineers will review the magazine’s findings and try to duplicate the test results.
A decision on whether to conduct a recall would follow, company spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said in Tokyo.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it’s in the process of checking the GX 460 to ensure compliance with standards for electronic stability control, which “should prevent the kind of fishtail event described in the CU’s tests.”
Drivers of the Lexus SUV should “use care and caution,” the agency said in a statement yesterday.
NHTSA’s database of complaints by consumers showed no entries related to that Lexus model as of late yesterday.
Toyota has sold 5,400 units of the model in North America since it was introduced in November.
The company has also sold 620 in the Middle East, Russia, and the Oceania region. Toyota hasn’t decided its response in those regions, Takeuchi said.
Toyota’s US sales rose 41pc in March after two months of declines, as the carmaker offered incentives such as no-interest loans and discount leases.
The March gains included a 42pc increase for Lexus. GX sales tripled last month to 1,785 and rose almost threefold to 4,787 in the first quarter.
The GX has a starting price of about $52,000, according to Lexus’s website. The model accounted for 10pc of Lexus brand sales in the first three months of 2010, according to Edmunds.com.