Posted by: David Welch on April 13, 2010
By now, Toyota executives must be afraid to go to their inboxes or turn on the news. These days, doing either is likely to reveal yet another challenge to the company’s safety image. The latest blow comes from Consumer Reports, which has judged the Lexus GX 460 a safety risk. The consumer advocacy magazine then slapped a “Don’t Buy” rating on the GX.
What’s worse is that Toyota’s latest public flogging has nothing to do with floor mats, sticky gas pedals or brake systems. CR bought a GX 460 and had four engineers drive the SUV in the magazine’s emergency handling test. They put the SUV through the paces, making tight turns through a serpentine course to see when stability control will kick in. All four drivers found that the rear of the GX slid out further than any other SUV before stability control kicked in. CR called the SUV a rollover risk and won’t lift its “Don’t Buy” rating until Toyota fixes the problem.
If that’s not bad enough, Toyota has told its dealers to halt sales of the SUV. That’s the second time this year they have had to stop selling models while engineers try to figure out what’s wrong. The company said on its website that its own engineers conduct similar tests and didn’t get the same result. Toyota is trying to replicate CR’s results and see if a fix is needed. As an aside, CR said it is not aware of any rollover accidents in the Lexus.
So what gives? Has Toyota completely forgotten how to make a safe vehicle? This is actually a rarity for Toyota, says Jake Fisher, senior automotive engineer at CR. Toyota was the first company to put stability control on all of its models. The 4Runner SUV, which is built on a similar platform as the GX, does just fine, Fisher says.
Still, this is a nasty blow for a company whose safety record and corporate reputation have been under siege for months. If I were in safety and compliance at Toyota, I’d have engineers poring over every vehicle making doubly sure it meets tests run by Consumer Reports, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and government tests. This company needs to get its safety record out of the headlines.