Industry Hit by Recall Epidemic
By Charles Krome
When news broke recently that Toyota was already recalling its all-new 2011 Sienna after just a few months on sale, it seemed like a stale joke. The Toyota Recallathon had already sucked up millions of vehicles from around the world and caused significant damage to the company’s standing here in the U.S. I know there have been some bright spots, but after once appearing to be in line to become the country’s top-selling automaker, Toyota is now well off the pace set by both GM and Ford. Worse, the company has seen sales decline in four of the past five months even as the industry itself has clearly begun rebounding. So, as I mentioned, the fact that some 94,000 Swagger Wagons are having brake-light issues was no shocker.
But when you cut through all the noise, it’s still an open question as to whether Toyota’s quality is any different than that of any other car company. Consider this week’s roll call of recalls:
Chrysler is recalling the 2008 Chrysler Town & Country and Dodge Caravan to the tune of 367,350 units, the result of a heating/cooling system problem that could lead to unintended airbag deployment. (And remember, Chrysler had already instituted a “safety improvement campaign” on 312,000 of its minivans from the 2005-2006 model year, again for an airbag issue, back at the beginning of the year.) In addition, some 76,000 Ram HD pickups built between March 2009 and October 2010 were recalled days ago for a potential brake-light issue.
The possibility that leaking fuel could cause certain VWs to go up in flames recently led Volkswagen to recall 266,936 Jettas, Jetta Sportwagens and Golfs/Rabbits manufactured for the 2007-2009 model years; a separate issue that could have the same result meant 110,350 New Beetles were involved here, too.
At Honda, 1.35 million Fits are being recalled globally, including 143,000 in the U.S., because of a problem with their headlight wiring. There’s also a burgeoning concern over oil leaks in the I4 engines holstered by the 2011 Accord and CR-V. At this stage, Honda is only asking dealers to inspect the vehicles involved, and this likely isn’t going to turn into a recall (for technical reasons), but I don’t think that’s going to make customers feel better.
More serious are Ford’s ongoing problems with the Windstar. One of the Blue Oval’s attempts to crack the minivan market, the Windstar was recalled in August because of an issue with rear-axle corrosion. Now, another 37,000 units have been added to the recall list, and a deadly Windstar accident in Massachusetts is being linked to the problem. Apparently, a man was killed in his Windstar when its rear axle broke and the vehicle smashed into a building—a week before his family received a recall notice on the van.
So, are automakers getting worse? Is NHTSA getting better? What say you, my fellow savants?