Toyota: Quality bug still biting?
BURNING ISSUE: Toyota dealers across the world are moving to make good a 7.3-million vehicle recall over a faulty window switch. Image: AFP
DETROIT, Michigan - The largest recall in Toyota's 75-year history could undermine the Japanese automaker's comeback from natural disasters and embarrassing safety problems.
The company recalled 7.43-million cars, trucks and SUVs worldwide to fix faulty power window switches that can cause fires. Wednesday's recall affects more than a dozen models produced from 2005 through 2010 including the Camry, the top-selling car in the US. It's bigger than the seven-million vehicles recalled two years ago for floor mats that could trap accelerator pedals and cause unintended acceleration.
QUALITY PROBLEM PERSISTING?
The problem focuses on the power-window switch, which is inside the driver's door and controls when a window is opened or closed. Toyota said grease wasn't applied evenly to the switch during production, causing friction and sometimes smoke and fire.
The flaw raises questions about whether Toyota has solved quality and safety issues that embarrassed the company in 2009 and 2010. It also could jeopardise Toyota's impressive rebound from last year's earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Those disasters hobbled factories and left dealers short of models to sell.
The Toyota recall "takes some of the sheen off its recovering brand image and should have a financial impact," Standard & Poor's analyst Efraim Levy wrote in a note to investors. Toyota's US shares fell $1.60, or 2.1% , to $74.46 Wednesday afternoon.
Toyota said initially the window switch problem hadn't caused any crashes or injuries but documents filed by US safety regulators show customers have reported 161 fires and nine injuries. No deaths have occurred.
200 US COMPLAINTS
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began looking into window switch problems with two Toyota models in February after noticing a higher than normal number of complaints. Most fires were minor, although one destroyed a Camry. Several owners reported that they were afraid to drive their vehicle because of the threat of fire. The NHTSA said on Wednesday the investigation remained open pending a review of recall documents.
Toyota said it had received more than 200 complaints about the switches in the US and more from other countries, including 39 in Japan. Most of the complaints were about a sticky feel to the switches while pushing the button to raise or lower the window but there also were complaints of the smell of smoke, company spokesman John Hanson said.
Toyota dealers - including those in South Africa - will inspect the switches and apply special grease. In some cases the switches and circuit boards could be replaced, Hanson said. Some repair shops might have used off-the-shelf grease to fix the problem but those eventually will make it worse, he said.
The recall includes 2.5-million vehicles in the US, where it covers about half the models sold under the Toyota and Scion brands.
Recalled US models include the 2007 to 2009 Camry, Tundra pickup and RAV4; the 2007 and 2008 Yaris; the 2008 and 2009 Sequoia large SUV and Scion xD and xA small cars; the 2008 Highlander SUV; and the 2009 Corolla and Matrix compacts.
ONLY MASTER SWITCH
The window switch recall also highlights one of the risks of globalized car production: Automakers install the same parts on multiple models in different counties, saving money but exposing their lineups to big recalls if a part is flawed. Toyota said it quickly identified all the models using the problem switches and took action.
"We want to make sure that we addressed this issue quickly and effectively, and I think we are doing that with this recall," Hanson said.
The recall covers only the master power window switch on the driver's side, which controls all four windows. Switches inside the other doors are different, Toyota said.
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