Acting quickly in an effort to dispel criticism surrounding the company’s slow response to safety issues, Japanese automaker Toyota announced Thursday that it will conduct safety tests on all of its SUV and crossover models. The announcement comes after Consumer Reports gave the Toyota-made Lexus GX 460 a “do not buy” rating due to potential rollover risks. Toyota’s tests will attempt to uncover what exactly contributed to the luxury SUV’s behavior during the magazine’s evaluation.
“For Toyota, customer concern is most important,” said Bill Kwong, spokesperson for Lexus. “We’re very sorry to the customer that we have inconvenienced them in terms of their time and that they don’t feel safe driving.”
The influential magazine has recently grown wary of Toyota, pulling its “recommended” rating from eight of the automaker’s models in January due to malfunctioning gas pedals. This stands in stark contrast to its usual sterling reviews of the brand.
During evaluation on its private test track, Consumer Reports discovered the safety issue with the GX 460 when simulating the actions of an “alarmed driver.” In this test, a driver comes into a turn at a high rate of speed and then lifts off the gas pedal. Upon doing so, the rear of the SUV slid outward, creating the potential for a rollover if the vehicle were to strike a curb or other object. Usually a vehicle’s electronic stability control would be activated, preventing such a situation. In the GX 460, however, the stability control was not triggered until after the vehicle had already slid out of control.
Toyota ordered its dealers to stop selling the GX 460 within hours of the Consumer Reports warning, but the automaker has yet to decide if it will issue a recall for the model. Toyota requested access to Consumer Reports test track to try to duplicate the magazine’s results, but was reportedly denied permission.
Toyota’s planned testing, which is to take place on the automaker’s track in Japan, will attempt to determine if there are physical problems with the GX 460 that could contribute to a rollover risk and if the issue can be found in other Toyota models. The company had requested the use of Consumer Reports' testing facility, but the magazine refused.
“The focus of this test is researching the results that Consumer Reports found,” said Kwong. “Basically, we are trying to simulate [that same test] with the throttle lift-off and the curve. Hopefully we can duplicate the test, then with the results we can act on it.”
Duplicating the test could be difficult, however, and the issue causing the rollover risk could remain elusive for some time. Kwong said that is because there are so many different factors to take into account during such evaluations.
“At this point, it could be anything,” Kwong told AOL Autos. “We run similar tests [to Consumer Reports] here when we test our vehicles, but there are so many variables. The type of tires on the car, the temperature, turning radius and the speed of the car are all factors [that could contribute to the rollover risk].
“The fix could be very simple, but we really don’t know because of these different things. It could be the tires, shocks, spring rate. It’s pure speculation at this point.”
Until Toyota can pinpoint the problem, the GX 460 will be unavailable for purchase. In addition to the stop-sale order in North America, the automaker has issued voluntary suspensions of sales in Russia and the Middle East.
“We don’t have a timetable for lifting the stop-sale. We will notify the dealers and the public after testing,” said Kwong, who noted that no other Toyota SUV or crossover models would be withheld, even though they are undergoing tests as well.
A New Toyota PR?
The quick response shows an effort by the automaker to reassure its customers and also shows that Toyota has been sensitive to criticism about its response time to safety issues with its vehicles. Amid the recent recalls of 8 million vehicles, $16 million in fines, and allegations that Toyota has been less than honest about its safety procedures, the number-one selling automaker needs to handle this situation perfectly.