More Bad News for Toyota: Lurching Lexus, Declining Sales, Angry Congress

Jim Lentz, President, Toyota Motor Sales USA

Jim Lentz, President, Toyota Motor Sales USA

First, Congress: House investigators, led by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), last week accused Toyota of totally failing to address the still-unanswered problems of unintended acceleration. Further, they found the company hired to do a comprehensive and independent review (Exponent, Inc.) was altering and withholding documents, had no bona fide work plan, and was under contract to Toyota’s legal team hired to defend against class action suits that might be forthcoming.

Mr. Waxman has detailed his objections here, and that document is a very good summary of Toyota’s gross failure, so far, to get to the bottom of the acceleration problems. I urge you to read it.

These developments finally got the attention of major media and the auto press last week. Lawmakers were steaming, but any assistance from NHTSA in studying the problem may be deferred until after August 31, as their study is taking more time than planned.

Declining sales: In March the company began issuing big buyer incentives, and they did work for a while. Evidence now is that the program has already made its impact and is fading. Toyota-brand sales are down 17 percent compared to last month. Sales of Lexus in the U.S., however, are up 22 percent.

Lexus LS 460But that brand has its own ongoing troubles, the latest being a recall of some 11,000 cars (worldwide) to fix a steering problem in the 2009-2010 Lexus LS 460 (right) and 600h L, its highest priced sedans. In some cars when the wheel is cranked hard over to left or right, it fails to return to the center position.

Some might find that a bit unnerving, especially if the car is under way, but consider the “lurching Lexus,” whose behavior caused great concern to Lexus engineers—yet the cars were allowed to go into production anyway.

As reported by the L.A. Times, these were the 2002-2006 Lexus ES models, and “thousands of Lexus buyers” would become victim to transmission problems that caused the car to hesitate, lurch forward, or shift gears roughly.

While the company struggled to figure out the problem over the years, one of its staff attorneys wrote in August 2005 that

The objective will be to limit the number of vehicles to be serviced to those owners who complain, and to limit the per-vehicle cost.

And if you didn’t complain loudly enough, you didn’t get the 2003 software upgrade (which many said didn’t work anyway). Those transmission problems may be tied into the unintended acceleration issues that have also plagued the ES.

NHTSA instituted three “defect investigations” on those ES cars, all were dismissed, yet 49 injuries and one death were blamed on “acceleration problems” in the ES, and no one has the answers yet.

Toyota so far has brought little to the table, and what has appeared isn’t appetizing. I say if it smells bad, don’t eat it.

Should Toyota be fined again for its unconscionable stalling and deception? Will your next car be a Toyota?

—jgoods

Find Used Cars in Your Area at CarGurus

Used Lexus LS 460
Used Lexus LS 600h L
Used Lexus ES 330

3 Comments

  1. Isn’t it amazing to see Toyota of 2010 morph into General Motors of 1990 right before your eyes? Maybe Toyota should hire some of those thousands of senior engineers that GM laid off last year?

  2. I have to agree with Joe, I never really liked Toyota that much in the first place. My company bought me a Corolla 1600 a year ago and I must say that this was the worst choice ever. Not that the car is that bad, but Service, in Toyota dealerships in South Africa, is non-existant. The car has been in for its 4th service yesterday and I can safely say that the problems I asked them to sort out is now worst that when the car went for the service. The first 3 services (15000,30000 and 45000) was done at the same dealership and everytime I received the car back, something else was wrong and the car had to go back the next day. I then decided to try another dealer and that was even worst. If, a year ago, I new what I know now, I would not ever have considered the Toyota, much less buy it.

  3. I never really liked Toyotas that much to begin with (just a personal thing, I guess), but after the mass recalls a few months back, that really cemented my dislike of their cars. If I was given the choice between any new Toyota and any other new car, odds are I’d buy the other car unless there was something that I knew was bad (or didn’t like) about it. Like if I was looking for something with really good highway MPG and was given a choice between a Prius (or Camry hybrid, as there are many reasons why I won’t buy a Prius) and something else, I’d go with something else. Like a Ford Fusion hybrid or a VW Jetta TDI (even though diesel costs more, the MPG increase still amounts to saving money on fuel over the life of the car compared to my current Buick Century. Plus, diesel engines are known to be more reliable than gas or gas/electric engines)

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