TORRANCE, CA: Toyota said Wednesday the company’s decision to recall 6.4 million vehicles was not influenced by recent issues surrounding General Motors’ decade-long delay to initiate an ignition switch recall.
"A lot of people think [Toyota is] doing this because of GM, and it just isn’t that simple," said Mike Michels, VP of communications for Toyota Motor Sales, USA. "What you are seeing industry-wide, predating the GM situation coming to light, is carmakers have been issuing more recalls, more proactively, and the volumes are going to be much higher."
Toyota attributed the global recall to faults involving parts ranging from steering to seats in models including the RAV4 and Yaris subcompact.
The recall comes shortly after news broke that GM knew about faulty ignition switches that could impede air-bag deployment in accidents in 2001, but did not address the glitch in a quick manner. The ignition switch flaw is linked to 13 deaths. GM is currently undergoing a criminal investigation and is facing fines from federal auto regulators.
Toyota’s media relations team was flooded with calls from reporters Wednesday about possible similarities between its own recall and GM’s, according to Michels. He explained this is a "logical" question for reporters to ask and his team anticipated it.
However, Toyota’s recall is strictly voluntary, based on trends noted by the company, said Michels. No accidents, deaths, or injuries are associated with the recall of 27 Toyota models and the Toyota-built Pontiac Vibe and Subaru Trezia in various markets, and the company made the decision to recall without pressure from regulators or safety advocates, Michels added.
"Beat reporters who cover automotive and automotive safety are aware Toyota has been quite proactive on recalls," he said.
He added that if a minor issue requires replacements on millions of vehicles, it "doesn’t mean vehicle safety has suddenly deteriorated dramatically; rather vehicle safety is being enhanced, and consumers should look at a recall as a good thing."
Toyota’s main objective is to get owners of recalled vehicles to bring their cars in, with the aim of getting a 100% response rate. Michels said the outreach strategy has consisted of a press release pointing customers to the company’s website, where they can enter a vehicle identification number to check if their car has been included in the recall.
In its statement, the company apologized to customers for the "inconvenience and concern" brought by the recall announcement.
Michels said most carmakers do not issue press releases about recalls, but Toyota chooses to do so "in the interest of clear information."
"Any comms practitioner knows in the absence of information from the source, you are not able to control the message," he added. "We feel it is important to do that."
In 2009 and 2010, Toyota faced its own recall crisis over unintended acceleration, leading to five deaths. The company’s president Akio Toyoda has been trying to restore the automaker’s reputation ever since. Last month, Toyota was fined $1.2 billion for concealing information from safety regulators about the defects.
"Since our own recall crisis, the company has been extremely proactive and has worked to be very transparent about recalls," said Michels.
Last week, GM CEO Mary Barra faced questions from the House Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee and was interrogated by Senators about the delayed recall.
Michels declined to comment on Barra’s response to GM’s ongoing recall situation.