Toyota Recall Threatens Quality Reputation

In the latest blemish on Toyota's reputation for quality, the company announced that it is recalling 533,000 trucks and SUVs due to problems in the steering mechanism. The recall includes the Sequoia SUVs and Tundra pickups.

The company last had a major recall in 2005, when it called back 2.2 vehicles, including 1 million trucks. In all, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports, the industry recalled around 18 million vehicles that year.

Last year, Toyota recalled 766,000 trucks and SUVs, including 160,000 Tundras whose front seats didn't comply with safety regulations for children. The industry 2006 industry-recall figure fell under 11 million vehicles.

Toyota ranks fifth, and sibling Lexus ranks first in J.D. Power and Associates' 2006 Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems with vehicles three years out.

But Art Spinella, of CNW Marketing Research, Bandon, Ore., said recalls will hurt a company whose reputation for quality has been bulletproof.

"We have already started to see some of the perceptions of Toyota deteriorate because of this kind of stuff--problems with Tacoma, Tundra, and Prius," he said. "Little things, but I think one thing that has hurt them the most is seeing Hyundai beating them in a couple of major categories" in the J.D. Power Initial Quality Study, which measures new vehicle quality.

"Many focus groups thought that was a fluke, but when it happened two years in a row it changed from a fluke to an eye-opener," he added.

"It's little things, and that's what hurt [consumer perception of] GM--one little thing after another."

Timing of the Tundra recall is particularly unfortunate because Toyota is mounting one of its largest marketing efforts ever as it rolls out a new full-sized version of the pickup.

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