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Largest-ever Toyota recall is a new black eye

5:07 PM, Oct 11, 2012   |    comments
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(USA TODAY) -- The new recall covers more than 7.4 million cars and trucks worldwide, including 2.5 million in the U.S., spanning the 2007 to 2009 model years. The problem is a faulty power window master switch. It can become sticky and if the wrong kind of lubricant is used on the switch it can be a fire risk. Several fires have been reported.

The lock problem does not appear to be a manufacturing defect, says Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons, but is blamed on "commercially available lubricants" used on switches after the vehicles left showrooms. Under the recall, technicians will apply an approved fluorine grease.

Safety advocate Sean Kane says he doubts that the problems occurred after manufacture. "There is a lot of smoke around this one," he says. And, he notes, the switch issue has been swirling for a while.

The recall comes as Toyota seemed to have largely put behind it the self-inflicted wounds from the 2009 and 2010 recalls of millions of vehicles over sticky gas pedals and floor mats that could trap the gas pedal.

In fact, many of the vehicles and model years in the latest recall also were involved in those earlier recalls. Toyota executives said at that time that the company's concentration on quality wavered in those years as it rushed to become the world's largest auto seller.

"The recall is another blemish on Toyota's reputation for quality," says Clarence Ditlow. "Toyota cut back on quality control from 2000 to 2010 in order to be the world's largest auto seller."

Even though the recall involves one part, the total number of vehicles is huge. But big number are increasingly the norm in recalls today because of:

-- Sheer sales. Huge global cars companies dominate the landscape more than ever.

-- Standardization. Car companies have maximized profits and efficiency by trying to sell each model in the same basic form around the world. They increasingly use the same basic platform under multiple models. And they use as many parts in common as possible across platforms.

-- Outsourced parts. Automakers do the final assembly of their cars, but many of the subassemblies, such as even whole door assemblies, now come from outside suppliers, making quality control complex.

Experts are divided about how much the current recall will damage Toyota's reputation anew.

Much has changed since Toyota's earlier string of recalls in 2010, says Karl Brauer, founder of TotalCarScore.com, an automotive ratings site.. "It would appear the stigma of a recall has been cast aside. It's clear automakers have learned from past mistakes, particularly Toyota, that a proactive recall is better than a reactive one."

But Van Conway, a corporate turnaround consultant in Birmingham, Mich., says the recall "is not positive and I think it will be viewed negatively by buyers in the next year."

The vehicles involved include:

  • 2007 to 2008 Yaris (approximately 110,300)
  • 2007 to 2009 RAV4 (approximately
    336,400)
  • 2007 to 2009 Tundra (approximately 337,100)
  • 2007 to 2009 Camry (approximately 938,100)
  • 2007 to 2009 Camry Hybrid (approximately 116,800)
  • 2008 to 2009 Scion xD (approximately 34,400)
  • 2008 to 2009 Scion xA (approximately 77,500)
  • 2008 to 2009 Sequoia (approximately 38,500)
  • 2008 Highlander (approximately 135,400)
  • 2008 Highlander Hybrid (approximately 23,200)
  • 2009 Corolla (approximately 270,900)
  • 2009 Matrix (approximately 53,800)

Owners will get official notification of the recall by mail later this month. The repair takes about an hour, Toyota says.

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