New safety risks hit Toyota, Mazda

08:40, April 16, 2010      

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Further trouble for Japan's auto industry emerged Thursday as embattled giant Toyota suspended worldwide sales of its Lexus GX 460 sport utility vehicle (SUV) and Mazda announced a recall of 90,000 cars.

Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, said it would suspend worldwide sales of its Lexus GX 460 due to a rollover risk at high-speed, and would protectively conduct safety tests on all its SUVs.

Mazda, which is part owned by US giant Ford, also said Thursday it would recall nearly 90,000 passenger cars domestically and in China due to an oil-hose defect.

For Toyota, the latest move followed its suspension of GX 460 sales in the US and Canada Wednesday after US magazine Consumer Reports gave the SUV a rare "Don't Buy: Safety Risk" rating.

"The company has decided to suspend the SUV's sales worldwide, which means also in Russia and Middle East after North America," said Toyota spokeswoman Mieko Iwasaki.

In the latest blow to the auto giant's reputation, the report claimed that when pushed to its limits, the rear of the GX "slid out until the vehicle was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control."

"We are in the middle of analyzing what the problem is. Once it becomes clear, the company will decide whether to recall and repair the cars," Iwasaki said. Concerned GX 460 owners will be offered a loan car in the interim.

The automaker will also "start testing all the other SUV models, including the Land Cruiser, Land Cruiser Prado and RAV 4," she said, adding that Toyota will continue to sell those models.

Toyota has sold about 5,400 of the Lexus GX 460 SUVs in the four months it has been on the market.

But even though the vehicle is not a high-volume model, analysts say the concerns could be another blow to the reputation of Toyota and its luxury car brand.

Toyota shares closed down 0.80 percent in Tokyo trade following the announcement.

Mazda, which vies with Mitsubishi for the rank of Japan's No.4 car maker, said it will start recalling 35,181 units in Japan and around 54,000 in China of the Mazda 3, known as the Axela in Japan, its most popular model.

The company said the cars, produced from January 2006 to March 2009, have been recalled because an oil hose and a radiator shroud panel have been placed too close together and may be damaged by friction when traveling on bumpy terrain, leading to potential leaks.

The Mazda 3 compact car is widely sold in Japan, China and Europe, but the recalled version is not available in the US.

The new developments illustrate the challenge for automakers to regain consumer confidence in the wake of Toyota's recall of more than eight million cars worldwide since late 2009, mostly for brake and accelerator issues.

The automaker has been hit with at least 97 lawsuits seeking damages for injury or death linked to sudden acceleration and 138 class action lawsuits from customers suing to recoup losses in the resale value of Toyota vehicles.

The company faces a record $16.4 million fine in the US for its failure to notify authorities quickly about vehicle safety problems.

Source: Global Times


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