Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand both have big displays at this year's Toronto auto show, but let's face it: the conversation at both these stands is as much about recalls as it is hybrid concept cars and the new models coming this fall from the new Scion brand being launched in Canada.
Recalls aside, this is shaping up to be a big year for Toyota. The Toyota, Lexus and Scion brands will introduce nine new vehicles in Canada during 2010. The new 2010 Lexus GX 460 SUV and the 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan are important new entries. The new Sienna starts at a suggested price of just $27,900, $1,600 below the starting price of 2010 models.
On the concept side, the Lexus LF-Ch concept offers one view of what a Lexus luxury compact might be - a hybrid model, of course. Speaking of hybrids, the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid (Prius PHV) is also on display. It has an electric-only range of more than 20 km and the ability to reach highway speeds on battery power alone. Toyota Canada had planned to have the car's chief engineer on hand, but cancelled in the face of the recall controversy.
On the Scion side, look for the Revault tC -- the 2009 Scion Tuner Challenge; the 2010 Scion xB Release Series 7.0 limited edition; and the 2010 Scion xD by MV Designz, another customized model.
All are interesting enough, but the truth is, the buzz on the show floor is mostly about recalls - and not just Toyotas. Honda Canada and American Honda have also recently recalled hundreds of thousands of vehicles to replace airbag inflators. Toyota may have recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide since last fall, but 400,000-plus recalled Hondas is no small matter, either.
Or is it? Recalls do happen in the auto industry. Visit Transport Canada's recall database and you'll find pages and pages of recalls involving every auto maker. Go to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Web site and there you'll find plenty of news about vehicle complaints, investigations, failures and recalls.
Toyota's recent problems are making news because Toyota has built its entire business on the quality, reliability and durability of its vehicles. Honda is in a similar situation. Buyers have been willing to pay a premium for Toyotas and Hondas that have above average quality and better than average resale values. The novelty of Toyota's current situation is news.
And that's why Toyota Motor president Akio Toyoda conceded that breakneck expansion led to the company's current recall crisis. If you visit the show this week, ask about the reforms Toyoda outlined - the ones targeted at putting quality on track. One major move: greater use of Toyota's in-car "black box" crash data recorder.
But in fairness, it's also worth putting Toyota's problems into some sort of perspective. For that, have a look at new research by www.edmunds.com. Edmunds.com combed through records from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) complaint database to determine where Toyota ranks in terms of customer complaints. Toyota is 17th among auto makers in the overall number of complaints per vehicle sold.
Complaints filed by individuals are not checked for accuracy by NHTSA. Thus, individuals or a group with an axe to grind could stack the complain files. Nonetheless, Toyota was the subject of 9.1 per cent of all complaints to NHTSA from 2001 through 2010 (through February 3). During this period, the company sold 13.5 per cent of all new cars in the United States.
The point is, Toyota is very low in the recall rankings. Land Rover, on the other hand, was first for complaints against auto makers. A total of 0.6 per cent of the complaints to NHTSA were about Land Rovers, while the brand had only 0.1 per cent market share from 2001 through 2010 (through February 3).
"No one should overlook the issues raised by the Toyota recalls, but it is important to keep things in perspective," said Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl.
"A broader view shows that consumer complaints reflect an industry issue, not just a Toyota issue. As Toyota's experience in recent months clearly demonstrates, it is no longer an option for car companies to dismiss consumer complaints, even if the event is difficult to replicate or diagnose."
If you want more details about the number of complaints against auto makers, go to this address: http://www.edmunds.com/help/about/press/161506/article.html. Take along the data and discuss it with the Toyota people at the show.