It just keeps getting worse for Toyota. The Japanese automaker said it will recall another 1.1 million U.S. models to fix floor mats that may jam accelerator pedals and cause unintended acceleration.
It's an extension of last fall's recall, when Toyota recalled 4.3 million vehicles. Earlier this week, Toyota took the unprecedented step of suspending sales of eight models -- some 2.3 million vehicles -- involved in a separate recall for sticking accelerator pedals announced earlier this month.
The latest announcement involves:
• 2008-10 Highlanders
• 2009-2010 Corollas, Venzas, and Matrixes.
It also covers 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibes made in a joint venture with General Motors Co.
There are two separate problems involving the accelerator pedals -- both potentially causing unintended acceleration and possible loss of control. In the 2.3 million vehicles recalled last week, accelerator pedals may become sluggish and stick in the open position. The other recall involves the possibility that floor mats may jam the accelerator pedals.
Toyota's remedy for the floor mat problem involves modifying or replacing the accelerator pedals and, in some cases, modifying the floor surface to reduce the likelihood of the floor mat jamming the pedal.
The other problem -- sluggish or sticking pedals -- may be a little harder to fix. Toyota has not yet made a definitive statement about how it will address that situation.
Toyota's dramatic fall from grace creates an opportunity that its competitors are not shy about exploiting. General Motors announced that it offer a rebate of up to $1,000 or free financing to Toyota owners who buy a GM car or truck.
Industry analysts expect Honda and Hyundai to make big sales gains, both in the U.S. and in global markets, while Toyota lies wounded.
Car rental companies are also affected. Avis Budget Group and Enterprise said they are pulling all of the recalled models from their fleets.
Pressure from feds
Toyota's stunning decision to suspend sales of some of its most popular models was initially seen as an act of corporate responsibility but U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood says the automaker's decision came amid pressure from federal regulators.
"We have a responsibility for the safety of these automobiles," he told WGN radio in Chicago. "And when we discovered the accidents that have taken place with the sticking accelerators in the floor mats, we immediately told Toyota they should recall those cars."
Helping ensure the safety of our customers and restoring confidence in Toyota are very important to our company, said Group Vice President and Toyota Division General Manager Bob Carter. This action is necessary until a remedy is finalized. Were making every effort to address this situation for our customers as quickly as possible.
This week's earlier recall and sales suspension involve these models:
• 2007-10 Camrys,
• 2009-10 Corollas,
• 2009-10 RAV4s,
• 2009-10 Matrixes,
• 2005-10 Avalons,
• 2010 Highlanders,
• 2007-10 Tundras and
• 2008-10 Sequoias.
No Lexus Division or Scion vehicles are affected by these actions. Also not affected are Toyota Prius, Tacoma, Sienna, Venza, Solara, Yaris, 4Runner, FJ Cruiser, Land Cruiser and select Camry models, including all Camry hybrids, which will remain for sale.
The action is separate from the ongoing recall of 4.2 million Toyota and Lexus models for a similar but unrelated problem involving unintended acceleration, although the company said about 1.7 million vehicles are included in both recall actions.
No one knows how many accidents may have been caused by unintended acceleration in the affected models but an August 2009 tragedy on a San Diego freeway put the problem at the top of the auto safety agenda. In that accident, a California highway patrolman and his family were killed in their runaway Lexus ES 350. Someone calling from the car before it crashed at over 100 miles per hour said they couldn't stop it. Seconds later, it struck an SUV.
The Wall Street Journal uoted a Massachusetts firm, Safety Research and Strategies, as saying it had identified 2,274 incidents of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, causing 275 crashes and at least 18 fatalities since 1999.
The company said it could not confirm the figures.
Toyota's 2009 recall, which is still underway, was the largest in the company's history. Toyota and Lexus vehicles affected by the earlier recall are:
• 2007-2010 Camry
• 2005-2010 Avalon
• 2004-2009 Prius
• 2005-2010 Tacoma
• 2007-2010 Tundra
• 2007-2010 Lexus ES 350
• 2006-2010 Lexus IS 250 and IS350
Toyota also said it will install a brake override system on the Camry, Avalon and Lexus models. The override will shut off all engine power if drivers press both the brake and accelerator pedals simultaneouls. Toyota said the override is intended to be "an extra measure of confidence."
The sales hiatus will idle five U.S. plans that build Toyota products for at least the week of February 1.
What to do
In the event that a driver experiences an accelerator pedal that sticks in a partial open throttle position or returns slowly to idle position, the vehicle can be controlled with firm and steady application of the brakes, the company said. The brakes should not be pumped repeatedly because it could deplete vacuum assist, requiring stronger brake pedal pressure.
Owners who have further questions can visit www.toyota.com or www.lexus.com or contact the Toyota Customer Experience Center at 1-800-331-4331 or Lexus Customer Assistance at 1-800-295-3987.
Critics complained that Toyota did not exactly leap at the opportunity to recognize and fix the problem and consumers have been complaining about the sudden acceleration for years. Initially, the company blamed the problem on floor mats sliding forward but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called that statement "inaccurate and misleading."
Toyota eventually conceded that it was the design of the accelerator pedal that was causing the problem.
No one knows how many accidents may have been caused but an August 2009 tragedy on a San Diego freeway put the problem at the top of the auto safety agenda. In that accident, a California highway patrolman and his family were killed in their runaway Lexus ES 350. Someone calling from the car before it crashed at over 100 miles per hour said they couldn't stop it. Seconds later, it struck an SUV.
Others have escaped injury, but only narrowly. Radha of Philadelphia was in a parking lot earlier this year when his 2009 Prius began accelerating unexpectedly.
"I went all in for the brakes -- no reaction from the car," he said. "Car crashed into a light pole, tilted to its right crashed down in parking spot right next to where I wanted to park. With me hanging by the seat belt, car still accelerating, I went for the power button. No response to that either.
Radha managed to crawl through the window to escape from the car, the engine running wide open as the car lay on its side. When police arrived, they managed to switch the car off, Radha said.
Mary of Medford, Oregon, also reported that four incidents of unintended acceleration in her 2007 Prius were accompanied by an apparent lack of response from the brakes. She said her dealer was able to duplicate the problem twice but couldn't resolve it.
"It has nothing to do with the floor mat," Mary said.
Not only were consumers skeptical, so was the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). NHTSA issued a highly unusual statement scolding Toyota for what it called "inaccurate and misleading" information in Toyota press release about the recall.
Toyota recalled 55,000 Camry and Lexus models in September 2007 following complaints of runaway acceleration. Owners of the popular Prius Hybrid had also complained of the problem but were not included in that recall, though Prius models are included in the current recall.
Toyota Adds 1.1 Million Vehicles to Accelerator Pedal Recalls...