In another big embarrassment to the auto industry, Toyota Motor Co. announced on April 9th the global recall of 6.4 million vehicles, from compact Corollas to sport utility vehicles, one of the largest acknowledgements of product defects ever for an automaker.
The recalls by the world top car maker total nearly 1.8 million in the United States, including 1.3 million for models in which a faulty spiral cable assembly could disable the driver’s air bags. Other problems include cars with defective seat rails, wiper motors, instrument panel brackets and starter relays.
Toyota said it’s unaware of any injuries or fatalities stemming from the problems
The company’s announcement comes at a time when the auto industry’s safety practices and the way U.S. regulators police them are under intense scrutiny. Just three weeks ago, Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion in criminal and civil penalties for its failure to report, recall and repair accelerators that got stuck at full throttle, leading to multiple fatalities, including four members of a family killed when their Lexus shot forward at 100 miles per hour before crashing.
Congressional panels on both sides of the capitol are examining hundreds of thousands of General Motors documents over disclosures that defective ignition switches have led to crashes that killed at least 13 people and the recall of 2.6 million cars.
In congressional testimony on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder said that with the Toyota settlement -- “the largest criminal penalty ever imposed on an automotive company – we’re making good on our determination to protect consumers and address fraud in all its forms.”
As part of the settlement, the government required Toyota to submit to independent monitoring of is safety policies, practices and procedures. It’s unclear whether such monitoring or the prospect of it led to the recall announcements or whether the timing is coincidental.
Of the Toyotas being recalled, simply turning the steering wheel can damage electrical connections in the spiral cable assembly that’s attached to the driver’s airbag module in 3.5 million vehicles, the company said.
“If this occurs, the air bag warning lamp will illuminate,” it said. “In addition, the driver’s air bag could become deactivated, causing it not to deploy in the event of a crash.”
Toyota said it is developing a new spiral cable assembly that will address the problem.
Affected vehicles include 2009-2010 model Corollas, the 2009-2010 Matrix, the 2008-2010 Highlander, the 2009-2010 Tacoma, the 2006-2008 RAV4 and 2006-2010 Yaris.
Separately, the company said it would recall 2.3 million vehicles, including 472,500 sold in the United States, because their seat rails are prone to failure if the seats are adjusted forward and rearward frequently. Those vehicles include model years 2006-2010 Yaris Hatchbacks, 2007-2010 Yaris Sedans and 2008-2010 Scion xDs.
If both springs on the seat rail’s locking mechanism fail, the seat will not lock in place or, in limited instances, it may only move forward, the company said.
Toyota said that the other defects do not affect vehicles sold in the United States.