Toyota reputation badly dented

Recent events have thrown a sinister light on the Japanese company’s recent actions

Mary Barra,  chief executive of General Motors  is scheduled to testify at a US congressional hearing  into why GM took more than a decade to recall vehicles linked with a  dozen deaths. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Mary Barra, chief executive of General Motors is scheduled to testify at a US congressional hearing into why GM took more than a decade to recall vehicles linked with a dozen deaths. Photograph: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Sat, Mar 22, 2014, 01:00

Toyota’s claim to be the “best-built cars in the world” was severely dented in 2010 when it recalled millions of vehicles over uncontrolled acceleration.

Events this week cast a more sinister light on the actions of the car giant. Toyota agreed to pay a $1.2 billion fine to US authorities and admitted it had misled regulators and consumers about its reaction to a series of incidents in which vehicles sped out of drivers’ control.

The settlement was approved by a New York federal judge, who said the case shows how “corporate fraud can kill”. A statement of facts about the defects that Toyota acknowledged was true as part of the deal “paint a reprehensible picture of corporate misconduct,” US district judge William Pauley said.

Toyota admitted it misled consumers from late 2009 through March 2010 “by concealing and making deceptive statements” about safety issues related to sudden acceleration. The company also gave inaccurate information to members of Congress, and concealed from regulators the extent of problems some customers experienced with sticking accelerator pedals and unsecured floor mats.

The car firm “undertook acts of concealment” amid scrutiny that followed a fatal accident in San Diego in August 2009 where the driver, a California Highway Patrol officer, and three family members were killed after the accelerator of a Lexus ES350 became stuck in the floor mat, the US government said.

The disturbing details from the Toyota settlement coincide with news that Mary Barra ( pictured ), the chief executive of General Motors – owner of the Opel brand in Europe – is scheduled to testify at a US congressional hearing next month into why GM took more than a decade to recall vehicles in the US equipped with an ignition defect that has been linked to a dozen deaths.

Investigations into both recalls were led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which administers vehicle recalls in the US. Ireland has no central body for co-ordinating recalls, and no central database. The top 10 car makers in the State last year issued 31 recall notices involving thousands of vehicles. A central database would certainly help.

Given the complexity of the modern car, recalls are a fact of motoring life. Despite the initial irritation, customers appreciate an honest effort to rectify a problem. What they don’t appreciate is deception or concealment by a corporate giant when safety is potentially at issue.

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