Today General Motors announced it was recalling 1.3 million Chevy Cobalts and various Pontiac models in response to over 1,100 complaints of power steering failures. These have been linked to 14 crashes and one injury. Drivers can maintain control even though the power steering might fail, said GM spokesman Alan Adler.
He went on to note “that when the power steering feature fails, a chime will sound and the ‘Power Steering’ message will display to alert drivers.” Those who are deaf, blind, or without the tactile sense to recognize needed steering effort may thus find themselves in a ditch or worse. The failure occurs generally in older models after 20-30,000 miles of driving.
As Akio Toyoda might have said to Ed Whitacre, “You think you got troubles?” Toyota is taking a big hit in European sales since its recall nightmare began: Last month’s U.K. decline looks to exceed 25 percent, according to European sales head Didier Leroy. And who knows when the company can pull out of it?
In the U.S., the company’s brand loyalty is slipping, says a Consumer Reports survey, down 4 percentage points since December. The situation is still in flux, however, and there may be a further drop coming. Toyota
has led past Brand Perception Surveys by a significant margin, and in the latest full survey in December, at 196 points, it held a significant score advantage with over its closest competitor, Ford, at 141 points.
But the survey asked, “The next time you are in the market for a new car, what brand are you most likely to purchase?” Ford kept its December 2009 lead over Chevrolet and Toyota with 17 percent of respondents naming it. Toyota, in third place, dropped from 16 percent to 12 percent.
Those of you who have followed the Toyota controversy probably know about the Biller documents. Dimitrios Biller is a lawyer who has been litigating with Toyota for years and has given scores of documents to the Towns Committee (Oversight and Government Reform) holding hearings this week. The documents allege the company hid evidence concerning rollover cases, unintended acceleration, and other safety defects.
Finally, the New York Times says that many Camrys built before 2007 and not (yet) subject to recalls, have experienced “speed control problems” like those in the recalled models. In the 2002 Camry, for instance, of 175 speed-control complaints, about half involved crashes. For the 2007 Camry, which was recalled, there were 200 speed-control complaints, less than a quarter of which involved accidents.
Not only Toyota but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has, and will have, a lot to answer for.
Is Toyota doing enough to reestablish its image with the public and with Congress? If not, what more should it do?