Toyota to Test All of Its SUVs After Halting Lexus SUV Sales

April 15, 2010

Toyota Motor said on Thursday it would conduct further safety tests on all its sport utility vehicles after it suspended sales of the Lexus GX 460 model following a report of a risk of rollover accidents.

Toyota had taken the unusual step of stopping sales of the SUV model in the United States earlier this week after Consumer Reports magazine warned against buying it, calling it a “safety risk” because of a potential handling problem in certain turns.

The world’s biggest automaker has now also decided to suspend sales in the Middle East and Russia, the only other markets where the car is sold. The model has sold 5,400 units in the United States and Canada in the four months since it has been on the market, and a total of 580 units in the Middle East and Russia.

Toyota is now conducting a string of tests on the stability control systems of all its SUVs in a bid to allay any concerns that drivers may have over their own derivate models, a Toyota spokeswoman said.

“The foremost reason for doing the extra tests is to put customers’ minds at ease,” spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said. She added that Toyota had received no reports of the problems described by Consumer Reports from GX 460 drivers.

Takeuchi also denied a Kyodo News report that Toyota would voluntarily recall the Lexus GX 460. Separately, the Nikkei business daily said in its online edition that Toyota would modify the electronic stability control systems and other aspects of the vehicle after the influential, non-profit magazine’s findings.

“There is no way of recalling a car — voluntarily or otherwise — unless we find something wrong with the car, and we haven’t done that yet,” Takeuchi said. “It’s premature to talk about any recall steps at this point.”

Toyota has said its engineers were “vigorously testing” the SUV to identify the risk cited by Consumer Reports, and has offered to provide a loaner vehicle for any concerned driver of the 2010 GX 460 model until a remedy was available.

Shares in Toyota reacted little, losing 0.7 percent in mixed trade for Japanese auto stocks. Tokyo’s Topix index rose 0.8 percent.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for problems related to unintended acceleration, and has been penalised by U.S. safety regulators for knowingly delaying one of the recalls.

The U.S. government has mandated that electronic stability control be standard on all vehicles by the 2012 model year. Electronic stability control is especially important on SUVs because taller vehicles are at greater danger for potentially lethal rollover crashes.

Consumer Reports has called electronic stability control the most important development in auto safety since the seatbelt.

The systems use computers linked to sensors to detect when a car starts to drift in turns and then apply more brake power or less engine power to keep the vehicle on track.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, Kevin Krolicki and Yuko Inoue; Editing by Joseph Radford)

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