Toyota is recalling more than 900,000 vehicles due to defective air bags and more than 380,000 Lexus IS cars due to faulty wipers. This is just the last development in the company’s major operations problems over the past four years.
Concerns over Toyota’s quality control have been festering ever since the company had to recall 14 million vehicles in 2009 and 2010. Toyota was also fined upwards of $17.3 million in late 2012 for failing to report safety defects to the National Highways Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA). The civil penalty stemmed from the June 2012 recall of the Lexus RX 350s and RX 450 vehicles that had a defective accelerator pedal. Once the payment is made, it will be the highest civil penalty fine ever paid to the federal agency for a single violation.
The most recent recall involves over 750,000 Corolla and Corolla Matrix cars that were manufactured between December 2001 and May 2004. The air bags in these cars can accidentally inflate without warning when the car’s electronic signals damage the chip that controls the air bags. Toyota is also recalling three types of Lexus IS models manufactured between May 2005 and October 2011, which includes about 270,000 vehicles. The windshield wipers on these cars can easily become stuck under heavy snowfall. The recalls are also affecting similar models of cars in Canada, Japan, and Mexico.
Earlier this January, Toyota surpassed General Motors as the world’s top automaker, selling a record 9.75 million vehicles in 2012. The company is projecting to sell nearly 10 million vehicles in 2013, and credits much of its success to the high demand for its Prius hybrids, Camrys, and SUVs. The Camry, which usually ranks at the top of the safety crash ratings, fared poorly in the new NHTSA crash tests.
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The agency tested a group of eighteen models of family-focused sedans, including the Camry, Honda Accord, and Ford Fusion. The new test involved crashing the driver’s side front bumper of the car going 40 miles per hour into a barrier. Somewhat surprisingly, Toyota’s Camry and Prius v hybrid wagon did the worst, each receiving a “poor” ranking.
At the time of impact, the Camry’s front wheel pushed the passenger footwell inward and the steering wheel was thrust to the right so when the airbag went off it inadequately protected the crash dummy’s head. The side curtain air bags also did not provide adequate protection. The Prius showed the same insufficiencies. The new test mimics the type of crash that makes up almost 25% of frontal crashes that seriously injure or kill front seat occupants.
The test was funded by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Its president said in statement that Toyota has much work to do if the company wants even to match the performance of its competitors. Toyota responded saying it saw this as an opportunity and challenge to design new, safer vehicles.
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The massive recalls and poor performance in crash safety tests has been cause for concern to many American consumers. In response, Toyota executives have consistently promised to upgrade its quality controls and respond more quickly to product defects and recalls. Not only was Toyota hit with a multimillion dollar fine from NHTSA for the Lexus problems, the company agreed to pay more than a billion dollars to settle lawsuits over the defects. Plaintiffs argued that the faulty accelerators caused the car values to plummet, and were seeking compensation for their economic losses. The settlement was one of the largest of its kind in automotive history. Under the settlement guidelines, the company agreed to install brake override systems in cars whose pedals had the potential to stick to or become tangled in floor mats.
There are numerous personal injury cases concerning the accelerators that are scheduled to go to trial this spring. One such case was filed by the families of two individuals who were killed in a sudden-acceleration crash. The two were driving in a Camry, which struck a rock wall off a freeway and failed to stop when the driver slammed on the brakes.
Toyota recall lawyers at Pintas & Mullins Law Firm urge anyone affected by the company’s defective vehicles to seek legal guidance. Toyota must be held accountable for its failure to provide consumers with safe, effective, and high-quality products.