Recall Fever Spreads to Hummer Hoods… while Toyota Thrives

Hummer hood

You know that recalls are getting endemic when a defunct company calls in nearly 200,000 cars worldwide (162,129 in the U.S.) to fix a fake hood vent—by gluing it in place. Yes, Hummer will recall its 2006-2010 H3s and H3Ts, because the plastic louver piece might fly off and hit another vehicle.

Yet another nail in Hummer’s coffin, the recall demonstrates the pressure on both NHTSA and the car companies to jump on anything that can be considered a “serious defect.” After years of benign neglect, NHTSA is now leading the way to protect us all.

The year 2009 made recall history, with 15.2 million vehicles pulled off the roads. A majority of these were Toyotas, as you know. But the company retains its dominance despite all the turmoil, bad press, and costs of $1.1 billion to handle the recalls. It reported yesterday a quarterly profit of $1.2 billion and expects its “next full-year profit to rise 48% to $3.3 billion.”

These figures are pretty incredible, even more so when you consider that sales of the Prius are up 26.1 percent over last year. The April year-over-year Prius figures show an astonishing 49.7 percent growth.

I think we can infer a couple of things from all this. First, the public is not only apparently forgiving when a company issues recalls, but is willing even to reward it by buying its products. I know, with Toyota’s awful safety record and its lack of disclosure, that is hard to believe.

Second, other recalls continue, and though some of them are in large numbers, the public seems largely to ignore their effects. In 2009, GM “had a major fiasco, recalling 1.5 million vehicles due to engine fires” involving its non-turbo 3.8-liter V6. You can find details on all major recalls of 2009-2010 here. It’s an illuminating list.

Finally, even the PR guys can’t explain this phenomenon of why the public seems so willing to forgive and forget (or ignore) these safety recalls. A respected U.K. firm tells us that Toyota dominated the headlines (over 15 percent of April stories) for major media and social media chatter:

The implication for Toyota’s corporate reputation looks to be severe and long-term and the potential for this negative coverage to contaminate other automotive brands is quite clearly present in the market.

Tell that to all the people who just bought new Priuses.

Why do you think car buyers are mostly unaffected by recalls? Or are they simply discounting them?

—jgoods

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4 Comments

  1. Most Toyota buyers over here were unaffected by recalls full stop only a couple of UK assembled models were recalled. None of the Jap or OZ built cars have problems.

  2. “In a consumer’s eyes, the recall only made their already safe cars even safer. Without costing them a dime.”

    You think recalls don’t cost a dime? They are very expensive. And you really need to rethink your bias for Toyota as a safe vehicle. This company has committed inexcusable faults in their safety program that should frighten any customer. The big problem is that many of the defects caused by Toyota’s lack of professional safety engineering can rear up at any time to bite you, and the fact that the majority of the vehicles haven’t had a problem is nothing to crow about. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t drive or let any family member drive a Toyota. There are too many other manufacturers doing a competent job of safety engineering to spend you money on a brand that exposes customers to potentially fatal defects to pump up their profits. If airliners were crashing at the rate that Toyota is recalling vehicles, you wouldn’t get near one.

  3. I believe the larger question is why do agencies designed to protect the consumers interest act only when it is discovered or shown that they are incompetent, irresponsible, and guilty of what you call benign neglect. Think FAA, SEC, OSHA, EPA, BBB, FHA, and a plethora of other Federal agencies whose main function seems to be protecting the status quo and promoting business interests here and abroad. These agencies are always reactive and not proactive.

  4. In my opinion, personal experience with a car is a far greater influence on a brand than media coverage. Yes, the majority of those 15 million recalled cars were Toyotas… but how many cars were actually experiencing problems? Very very few. In a consumer’s eyes, the recall only made their already safe cars even safer. Without costing them a dime. Sounds like a good way to build loyalty to me!

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