Saturday, November 28, 2009

Cruisin' For a Bruisin'

In what has to be the biggest recall in automotive history, Toyota - yes, Toyota - has had to recall 3.8 million vehicles to install a new accelerator pedal and install a new brake system after several Toyota and Lexus cars have caused in the United States twelve deaths and over a hundred complaints to the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration. The cars accelerated without warning, even with cruise control in use.
This is a much more serious case than the infamous Audi incident in 1987, when Audi's 5000 model was believed to be unexpectedly accelerating when drivers attempted to use the brake pedal. What actually happened in that case was that American drivers, unfamiliar with the accelerator and brake pedals on German cars being so close together, unintentionally pressed on the gas when they attempted to slow the car down. The Toyota case was apparently due to a flaw in the interior design; the pedal was simply too close to the floor, and the floor mats have to be reconfigured as well to provide more clearance. Temporary gas pedals will be installed by January, with permanent replacements installed by April. A new system that brings the car to a stop when both the accelerator and brake pedals are applied will be added.
The cars affected are the 2005-10 Toyota Avalon, and the 2007-10 Toyota Camry and Lexus ES350, along with some IS Class models. If you own a different Toyota product, relax; you're off the hook. Toyota, though, will be hooked to the tune of exorbitant costs to set straight something that should have been taken care of in the original design.
Recalls in the automotive industry are nothing new, but Toyota has rarely had to deal with any recalls, and certainly nothing of this magnitude. The gas pedal snafu comes on the heels of the Japanese automaker having to recall 110,000 Tundra pickup trucks made from 2000 to 2003 to correct a problem with rust that could loosen spare tires mounted below the truck underbodies. Perhaps what happened to General Motors and Volkswagen in the seventies - a dramatic drop in quality due to unproven products and corporate gigantism - may finally be happening to Toyota, riding high in the United States after over three decades and now the world's largest automaker. Toyota would be wise to correct these problems and put a stop to such quality lapses lest they're in danger in losing market share. As other automakers have demonstrated, a loss in market share can't be regained for decades.
For more information, owners can call Toyota at 800-331-4331 or the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration at 888-327-4236.

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