Toyota Recalls: Dealing With the Aftermath

Posted: Feb 19, 2010 11:50 a.m.

As Toyota Motor Corp struggles to repair the eight million vehicles it has recalled for dangerous brake and acceleration problems, it must take responsibility for its actions and work to repair its damaged reputation. If recent events are an indication as to what the world’s largest automaker can expect, the future doesn’t look so bright.

For months, accusations of scandal have followed Toyota -- with critics claiming that it has tried to ignore, quell or downplay safety concerns raised about some of its best-selling vehicles. Now the federal government is stepping in to investigate, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) seeking to determine whether or not Toyota acted fast enough in issuing its three highly-publicized safety recalls.

“NHTSA officials said the agency is using its legal authority to compel Toyota to turn over documents offering more details about how and when the automaker discovered defects with the accelerator pedals in approximately 5.4 million vehicles,” reports The Washington Post. “Federal law requires that automakers notify NHTSA within five days of finding a safety defect and then promptly conduct a recall, agency officials said.”

Meanwhile, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda recently made headlines when he declined to testify at a hearing on the issue schedule for next week in front of the House Oversight Committee. However, mounting criticism and pressure from U.S. law makers led him to change his mind days later.

The Detroit Free Press explains: “After telling journalists in Tokyo on Tuesday that his chief U.S. executives should handle two hearings next week, Akio Toyoda agreed Thursday to testify to the House Oversight Committee. Chairman Edolphus (Ed) Towns, D-N.Y., extended a formal invitation to Toyoda on Thursday -- one that could have turned into a legal summons had Toyoda declined.” Federal witnesses, safety experts and family members of accident victims are also expected to attend.

Combined with Toyota’s perceived negligence in properly handling the three recalls, Toyoda’s flip-flopping on the issue has left consumers feelings understandably wary of the once-trusted automaker.

Ed Kim, an industry analyst at AutoPacific Inc. recently told BusinessWeek: “This is a PR mess on a scale Toyota has never had in its history, and certainly the more you have the person at the top responding, the better. A lot of the moves Toyota has made up to now seem erratic and confused because they’ve never had to deal with anything like this before.”

To make matters worse, USA Today reports that the NHTSA has recently “opened a formal investigation into steering problems in the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Corolla and mechanically similar Matrix.” No word yet on whether this investigation will snowball into another recall.

Check out the latest Toyota recall news and information, including how the company's recent troubles affect our rankings. If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals