Toyota and Lexus Recalls — Trivial Or Vital Safety Concerns?

Posted by Stephen On Sunday, October 14th, 2012

In case you have not heard the story, Consumer Reports magazine has found a problem with the new Lexus ES and GS sedans. According to their testing, the emergency release trunk handles on these models can be easily broken when pulled towards a user. Also, once these handles have been broken, they will no longer function, so it also creates a safety hazard.

The problem with this is that if someone was in the trunk, they are now very likely to be trapped. Some might take this as another example of the over-the-top nature of US safety concerns, but since the issue of sticking accelerator pedals, Toyota Group cannot afford to have even the most minor safety concerns raised.

Once this issue was discovered, the magazine immediately reported it to both Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Toyota, as the parent company of Lexus, is reported to be cooperating fully with authorities and has also begun their own internal investigation.

How Was This Discovered?

Actually, this flaw was discovered by accident. The son of one of the testers climbed into the trunk to take a look. After the trunk was closed, the small boy tried the interior release and it broke off in his hands. The trunk release did not work until the father opened the trunk from the outside.

(Frankly, you have to wonder what the tester was thinking anyway – using his son as a human guinea pig!)

This issue has only been discovered in the 2013 models of the ES 350, the ES hybrid and the GS 350 sedans. The good part is that it has been discovered early and hopefully this can be fixed before any major harm is caused or embarrassing headlines written by America’s paranoia-fanning media.

Internal Investigation

Toyota has responded to the report by launching its own internal investigation. They are reportedly examining the design and durability of the emergency release lever. This has been a feature mandated by the Federal Government. They are required to glow in the dark, so that if someone is trapped inside the trunk, they will be able to see the lever.

Unfortunately, the timing of this news is not great. Just last week there was a global recall of over 7 million vehicles to fix power window switches.

Damage Control

In recent years, Toyota has suffered from several major setbacks. Back in 2009 and 2010, the company recalled and repaired millions of vehicles for floor mat and gas pedal defects which to unintended acceleration. The real question that many industry analysts and even consumers are starting to ask is what is going on with Toyota?

For years and years Toyota has been the picture of quality and reliability. They were known for producing quality vehicles that people were proud to own and drive. But now it seems like they have been plagued by a rash of problems. Then again, looking at the stock market returns, it seems as if their reputation has not suffered too much. After all, a company in trouble does not usually realize a 13% year to date increase in their stock price.

On the other hand, it is also a testimony to the quality and safety of modern cars that the media can make faulty power window switches sound like a huge problem. If only the alleged problems with the Ford Pinto had been that minor!

Looking Toward The Future

Despite all of these troubles and issues, this is probably par for the course. Nowadays, almost every automobile manufacturer seems to have had their fair share of problems, including recalls and even safety issues. The important thing to keep in mind and pay attention to is not that these issues are present, but how they are handled and how important they really are to the durability and safety of the vehicle.

Toyota seems to have been one of the more transparent and honest auto makers in terms of how they have handled their various crises over the years. And they seem to have largely recovered from those accelerator recalls and even their supply chain issues in the wake of the tsunami in Japan which severely hampered their ability to obtain parts.

They can only hope that consumers can sift the trivial from the serious when making their buying choices. If they do, Toyota’s stock will seem undervalued at present levels

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