Toyota Issues Lexus Recall, as Quality Issues, Lawsuits Mount

Toyota is recalling more than a quarter million cars worldwide, including about 49,000 Lexus models because of defective fuel pipes.  According to Toyota, the <"">defective parts on the recalled vehicles could cause cracks and corrosion and lead to a fuel leak.  The Toyota  recall is just the latest problem for the Japanese automaker in recent months, which has seen its long-held reputation for reliability damaged over mounting quality control issues.

Toyota, once considered to be among the most reliable car makers in the market, has quickly fallen from grace over the past several years.  Last month, Consumer Reports said Toyota “is showing cracks in its armor” and will no longer get automatic recommendations from the magazine for new or redesigned vehicles. It also removed several Toyota vehicles from its recommended list because of quality issues.  While Toyota is poised to overtake General Motors as the world’s biggest automaker by sales as soon as this year, the company recalled 766,000 vehicles in the United States last year, up from 210,000 in 2003.

In the United States, the latest Toyota recall involves 26,274 Lexus GS300, 5,429 Lexus IS250, and 2,640 Lexus IS350 vehicles. The recalled Toyota models were exported from Japan, and the same models are also being recalled in Canada, England, and Germany. There have been 39 cases of trouble involving recalled Toyotas in Japan but no reports of injuries. It was not immediately clear whether any problems have been reported elsewhere.

Just Tuesday, a civil trial opened in California in the case of a man who was killed when the seatbelt of his 2002 Toyota Corolla jammed, leaving him trapped in a burning car.  Raminder Singh, a 60-year-old security guard, and his 19-year-old son were driving to a shoe shop when theirToyota Corolla was struck by another vehicle and veered off the road and smashed into a tree.  The son was able to free himself from his seatbelt, but the elder Singh’s seatbelt jammed.  By the time the son crawled out of the car to seek help, the car’s engine had caught fire, and he could do nothing but watch as his father burned to death inside the wreckage. 

The Toyota Corolla involved in Singh’s death was manufactured at the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI) facility in California.   Toyota and General Motors embarked on the NUMMI joint venture in 1984, and the California plant produces the Corolla subcompact, Tacoma pickup truck and the Pontiac vibe wagon.  The NUMMI plant is at the center of a second California lawsuit, in which a certified auditor at the plant accuses her superiors of deleting or downgrading defect reports from her vehicle reports.   Those problems included defective parts like broken seat belts and bad headlights, as well as poor braking systems and steering wheel alignment problems.  The Toyota and General Motors whistleblower lawsuit also claims that managers retaliated against the employee when she objected. According to the complaint against General Motors and Toyota, the plaintiff has been receiving medical treatment for stress, depression, fatigue, insomnia and panic attacks as a result of the poor treatment she was subjected to at NUMMI.

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