In light of increased government scrutiny of its cars, Toyota has announced a worldwide recall of its Prius hybrids. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Toyota’s quality chief Shinichi Sasaki said at a press conference (in Japan) that the problematic brake systems in the recalled cars “meet safety standards,” a comment implying the company isn’t required legally to recall the vehicles. But Toyota decided to take action and update software that controls the brake system in order to “be in accordance with the spirit” of those standards, Mr. Sasaki said.
Many at Toyota—from top executives to engineers to sales managers—believe the company is now being forced into the corrective action on its popular hybrids because of heightened government and public scrutiny of Toyota’s recent quality problems at home and in the U.S. These executives say the Prius problems are much smaller than, and unrelated to, the sudden acceleration complaints that have triggered the firestorm of criticism against the company in recent days. Before the latest controversy, many Toyota engineers feel, the issue could have been dealt with by a much quieter consumer action, where dealers would correct it only when customers came to dealers to raise issues.
Toyota officials acknowledge that the company may have made mistakes in how to handle customer complaints in recent months and may have angered regulators, but at this point “this is 60% political,” one U.S.-based top Japanese Toyota executive said.
On Tuesday, Toyota said it will recall a total of 437,000 hybrid cars world-wide, including the Prius, to fix the brake system problems as the Japanese auto maker tried to tackle the latest in a series of recall headaches that have dented its reputation for reliability. The cars affected, in addition to the Prius, include the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, the Toyota Sai and the Lexus HS250h.
In the U.S., Toyota is recalling about 133,000 2010 Prius cars and 14,500 2010 HS250h cars. In Japan, Toyota will recall 223,000 hybrid vehicles, while the number should total 52,900 vehicles in Europe.
Being defensive isn’t going to help Toyota now–it’s too late. They need to start being proactive, by getting a killer PR firm, for example. Especially if brakes aren’t the only Prius problem.