Business

Recall, regulator scrutiny hit Toyota with a double whammy in the U.S.

by Craig Trudell

Bloomberg

Toyota Motor Corp. has been hit by dual setbacks after a U.S. regulator renewed its scrutiny of the carmaker over unintended acceleration and the company embarked on a recall of 690,000 pickup trucks.

As many as 1.69 million Toyota Corollas with model years from 2006 to 2010 are subject to the probe after owners said they experienced unintended “low-speed surging,” according to a notice Monday from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Separately, Toyota recalled Tacoma trucks to fix suspension parts that could break.

The Corolla complaints are reminiscent of the sudden, unintended acceleration episodes that led the world’s largest automaker to recall more than 10 million vehicles in 2009 and 2010. Toyota paid a record $1.2 billion penalty, admitted it misled consumers and agreed to three years of supervision by an independent monitor to oversee its safety practices as part of a settlement in the U.S. in March.

“Toyota will cooperate fully with any inquiry,” spokesman Ed Lewis said.

The Tacoma recall covers trucks with model years 2005 through 2011. While Toyota said in a statement it is not aware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities associated with the defect, several truck owners have filed complaints with NHTSA about faulty leaf springs damaging the brakes of their vehicles.

“Just leaving work to go pick up my children from school, I noticed a strange rattling coming from the bottom side of my truck,” one owner wrote of an incident that occurred in May. “I noticed the middle (of three) leaf springs had completely broken, slid out of place, and was rubbing against my brake line.”

In June, another Toyota pickup owner said a broken leaf spring cut the vehicle’s brake line while the driver’s 8-year-old child was in the truck.

Toyota has sought to repair its reputation for quality that was blemished by the unintended acceleration recalls and contributed to the company losing its title as the world’s top-selling automaker in 2011 to General Motors Co. Toyota regained leadership in each of the last two years and clung to its lead over Volkswagen AG through the first half of 2014.

While Toyota’s past unintended acceleration cases led the company to modify gas pedals and floor mats, NHTSA said its latest case, which has not escalated to a full defect investigation, focuses on Corollas equipped with an electronic throttle-control system called ETCS-i.

A Corolla owner whose car accelerated and crashed while attempting to park asked the agency to investigate, saying there were 163 reports of similar incidents.

Safety Research and Strategies Inc., a Massachusetts-based company that works on court cases alleging automotive defects, said petitioners have evidence from the electronic data recorders in their cars that the brakes were being applied while their Corollas sped up.

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