Lord Adonis orders Toyota UK chief to explain recall crisis

The transport secretary, Lord Adonis, this week summoned the managing
director of Toyota GB to discuss the crisis that led to the recall of
almost 190,000 cars in the UK.

The face to face meeting in Whitehall on Monday was called on the eve
of the Prius recall and Miguel Fonseca was asked to explain the
response to the accelerator and brake problems affecting eight models
in the UK.

The intervention by Adonis, who travels in a Prius as part of the ministerial fleet, came amid growing disquiet among consumers that Toyota responded too late to faults which posed a safety threat.

The shadow transport secretary, Theresa Villiers, called for a parliamentary inquiry into Toyota’s handling of the problem which would involve the public cross-examination of executives.

She said: “It is important not to create more anxiety and we don’t want to unnecesarily talk down a major UK manufacturer, but we can ask tough questions about how long they knew about these problems, how they handled the crisis and how long it is going to take to solve.”

Louise Ellman, the chair of the Commons transport select committee, said her committee will consider launching an inquiry after the parliamentary recess.

A spokeswoman for Toyota said it would offer “full cooperation” in any inquiry.

Ellman is also to table parliamentary questions asking Adonis why it took Toyota more than 12 months after it first knew about the sticking accelerator problem in the UK to institute a recall with the Department of Transport’s Vehicle and Services Operator Agency, and why it took more than six months to recall the third generation Prius after customers first reported the brake problem.

The political pressure on Toyota came as executives tried to regain the initiative after 10 days of bad news in which model after model has been called in and customers voiced frustration that their complaints of defective accelerators and brakes were not heeded more quickly.

Drivers of the hybrid’s second generation model today reported similar loss of braking power to that which sparked the recall on Tuesday of more than 8,000 third generation vehicles, sold after August 2009.

Toyota tonight said it has had no reports of the problem affecting earlier models but urged any concerned owners to bring the vehicles in for examination.

One driver of a second generation Prius wrote on the forum of the Toyota Owners Club that his car suffers from the brake problem “all the time”. He said: “The immediate loss of feel and the frantic flashing of the traction light makes for quite an unpleasant second or so of seemingly being sans brakes.”

A Toyota spokeswoman said anyone with any problem should contact either their local dealer or Toyota GB directly.

The manufacturer this week started repairs on 8,500 Prius cars sold since last August which suffer from a loss of braking power on rough or slippery surfaces. More than 200 Toyota-approved workshops are working extended hours to fix a fault with the accelerators of up to 180,000 other models. Toyota said it can mend 6,000 vehicles a day at maximum capacity.

Owners of the Prius told Toyota about the problem with the brakes on the third generation model six months before the recall on Monday, the Guardian has learned.

Prius driver Daron Brown, 38, from near Belfast, said he told his Toyota dealer about the brakes on his wife’s car losing power in August after a scare when he drove down a hill to a junction near their home.

“It scared the life out of me,” he said. “Your first thought is that you are going to sail out into oncoming traffic on the other side of the road. I asked [the dealer] if I should bring it in and he said a technician could take it for a five minute drive but the chances of it happening were pretty slim.

“He checked the system to see if there was a recall and there wasn’t any. The dealer said there was nothing they could do about it. They have since said this is about the ‘braking feel’ but I would dispute that. There is a loss of power.”

There were also questions from engineering specialists about how Toyota failed to pick up the accelerator or brake problems in pre-sale testing.

Bernard Porter, the head of the mechanical and automotive engineering department at Coventry University, said: “Because it was considered a perception issue, they might have disregarded it.”

Let us know if you had problems with you Toyota Vehicle and what the company has done to solve your problem.


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