According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA),Toyota Motor Corp. issued five million safety recalls per year over the past two years. The regulatory agency stated that the company has the highest recall rate in the U.S. In April 2014 alone, Toyota issued a safety recall affecting 6.4 million vehicles worldwide; the recall applies to 1.8 million cars in the United States. According to Toyota, the recall is being made as a result of faulty air bags that may not deploy during accidents and car seats that may move during a crash. While Toyota stated that no known deaths or injuries are linked to the safety defects, several consumer complaints on the NHTSA’s website stated that the air bags did not go off during accidents.
The automotive industry has recently come under fire from federal lawmakers and regulators for failing to issue safety recalls on vehicles known to be defective. Several weeks before issuing the 6.4 million car recall, Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion federal penalty for failing to properly inform the public and governmental agencies about an unintended acceleration problem in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. In addition, General Motors faces a potential criminal investigation over a faulty ignition switch problem that can cause a vehicle to turn off in the middle of driving, resulting in the loss of power steering, brakes and functioning air bags. GM knew about the problem for ten years, and 13 deaths have so far been linked to the safety issue. Despite issuing massive recalls, both Toyota and GM now face numerous wrongful death and personal injury lawsuits from consumers who owned the defective vehicles.
According to Alec Gutierrez, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book and an automotive industry expert, large manufacturers like Toyota are now keenly aware that the government is taking safety issues and recalls very seriously. He stated, “They’re making a very bold statement that they’re going to stay on top of those recalls, no matter what the impact. Toyota took this opportunity to say, ‘We are going to go through the list of all known problems and issue as many recalls as necessary.'”
During a press conference about Toyota’s $1.2 billion settlement, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated that the industry should be on notice and intends to “send a powerful message to all manufacturers to follow our recall requirements or they will face serious recalls.”
In the latest round of recalls, Toyota stated that the faulty airbags are caused by an electrical connection in an assembly that “could be damaged when the steering wheel is turned.” The company said that the car seat issue is the result of a faulty spring that could break, allowing the seat to be unlocked.
The Japanese automaker states that it has improved its internal safety control process and may issue more safety recalls in the near future.
Toyota to Recall 6.4 Million Vehicles, NY Times, Christopher Jensen and Hitoko Tabuchi, April 9, 2014
First Take: Big Toyota recall could avoid GM situation, James R. Healy, April 9, 2014