Archive for Friday, April 16, 2010

Toyota rushes to do safety tests on all SUVs

April 16, 2010


— Toyota is testing all its sport utility vehicles to reassure buyers of their safety after Consumer Reports warned a large Lexus SUV is susceptible to rolling over.

After Consumer Reports gave a rare “don’t buy” warning to the Lexus GX460, Toyota announced that it would test all of its SUVs for safety and handling.

After Consumer Reports gave a rare “don’t buy” warning to the Lexus GX460, Toyota announced that it would test all of its SUVs for safety and handling.

The testing covers the entire lineup of Toyota and Lexus SUVs, including popular models such as the RAV4, the 4Runner and the Highlander, said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons. The automaker will be testing the vehicles’ stability control and aims to replicate the Consumer Reports’ test that first uncovered the problem, he said. He was unaware how long the tests would take.

Toyota is also suspending production of the Lexus SUV — the GX 460 — which is built in Tahara, Japan, for 12 days starting today. The move follows suspension of the vehicle’s sales earlier this week.

Toyota has yet to decide whether it will recall the vehicle, a hefty seven-seat SUV sold mainly in North America but also in the Middle East, Russia and some other nations.

The actions reflect a new urgency at Toyota Motor Corp. to deal with safety problems. The automaker in recent months has been plagued by recalls and accusations that it responded too slowly to safety lapses.

Earlier this week, Consumer Reports gave the GX 460 a rare “Don’t Buy” rating because its rear slid out too far during sharp turns designed to test the vehicle’s handling. That puts the back end at risk of hitting a curb and rolling over.

Toyota says it does not know what’s causing the problem, but was working to address it so that the influential magazine, on which many shoppers rely to choose new cars, would retest the vehicle and give it a satisfactory rating.

“I do think Toyota is responding very quickly,” said Rebecca Lindland, automotive analyst at consulting firm IHS-Global Insight. “I think the difference is that this situation has been made very public.”

A small-volume SUV that launched in late December, just 4,787 GX 460s have been sold in the U.S. this year. That represents about 10 percent of sales for Lexus and just 1 percent of Toyota’s overall U.S. sales.

Still, Toyota ordered dealers to stop selling the model in North America on Tuesday within hours of the Consumer Reports warning. On Thursday, Toyota said it would expand the sales halt to all markets. The model is not sold in Japan.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide since October, mostly because of flaws in the automaker’s pedal design. The Lexus GX 460 was not recalled over pedal problems.

Consumer Reports, widely read by many car buyers for its reputation for objectivity, has been critical of Toyota recently. In January, the magazine pulled its “recommended” rating on eight recalled models.

Toyota also faces a $16.4 million fine from the U.S. Transportation Department, which says the automaker was too slow to issue its recalls. Toyota has until April 19 to decide whether to contest the penalty.


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