Another day, another recall for Toyota, with 870,000 Toyota Sienna minivans (600,000 in the US, the remaining in Canada) due to head back to dealerships over new safety concerns. This time, models dating back to 1998 and which were sold in both cold weather states and Canada have been recalled in order to deal with corroded spare tire cables. These cables, which are charged with holding the minivan's spare tire to the vehicle's undercarriage, are not thought to have been able to handle the onslaught of road salt that typically accompanies winter weather in snowy areas of the country. The result is a fleet of vans with retaining cables so rusty that they could snap at any moment and drop the spare tire on the road while the vehicle is in motion.
It has not been a good week for Toyota. After news that Consumer Reports had placed a 'don't buy' rating on the Lexus GX 460 sport-utility vehicle based on a claimed rollover risk - documented by an alarming video that has exploded across internet and television media outlets - the brand elected to stop sales of the truck until it could adequately determine if there was truly a problem. The automaker claims that it has been able to duplicate the results of the Consumer Reports test, and that it has decided to make changes to both the vehicle's stability control system and several other undisclosed aspects of the GX 460 before restarting sales in North America. A timetable for these changes to be fully implemented has yet to be established, and there is as yet no word on when current GX 460 owners can expect to have their vehicles serviced to address the issue.
Toyota is also stating that it will test the electronic stability control systems on every SUV that it offers in order to provide documented proof that its trucks are safe. This attempt at damage control may be too little, too late from a regulatory perspective, as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has already stepped in to examine the vehicle used in the Consumer Reports test. It has additionally acquired a number of other versions of the Lexus GX 460 in order to run rollover simulations of its own.
The NHTSA has also served notice to Toyota that they were investigating suspicious circumstances surround the floor mat unintended acceleration recall of the 2009 Toyota Venza. Although the initial recall for most of the vehicles implicated in this phase of the stuck accelerator pedal fiasco occurred in October of 2009, and Canadian editions of the Toyota Venza were recalled in December of 2009, Toyota waited until the very end of January 2010 to take any action on the Venza problem in the United States. At the time of the Canadian recall Toyota had informed the NHTSA that the floor mats used in the Canadian automobiles had never been imported to America - a position that would seem to be lacking in honesty given the later recall of the same vehicle for the same reasons given in Canada.
The tardiness of the decision to address the unintended acceleration issue in the Toyota Venza, in addition to being in violation of federal law, was also underscored by the haphazardness of Toyota's global handling of the entire situation. The NHTSA has discovered documents indicating the European dealers were informed of both the problem and a potential remedy for it as early as the end of September, while American Toyota dealers were left in the dark.
The four month gap between Toyota becoming aware of the safety issue and its decision to actually inform the NHTSA has served as the primary impetus behind the $16.375 million fine that the Japanese car company is now facing. Lest anyone think that Toyota is being unfairly singled out as an example with this record-setting penalty, consider the following: the Administration has pointed out that if the fine were not capped, by the letter of the law Toyota would be responsible for a $6,000 penalty per vehicle involved, the total for which comes out to a staggering $13.8 billion.