x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Speed check for runaway Toyota

Those Land Cruisers and Lexuses accelerating down the Sheikh Zayed Highway may not all be doing it voluntarily.

You could call it the winner's curse: last year Toyota finally overtook General Motors as the largest car manufacturer in the world. Since then its speed has only caused problems to itself and not its competitors. It was first reported five months ago that there were some Toyotas in the United States that were reluctant to slow down. Amusing as this might sound, there were a number of hair-raising incidents. The blame was put on the mats that were supplied with the cars. Drive on, assured the dealers, and everything will be fine.

Except that the problem turned out to be the accelerators themselves. Toyota may now be forced to recall up to 7.7 million cars worldwide. This is also a drawback for the UAE, because it is one of the most popular brands in the country. Those Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexuses accelerating down the Sheikh Zayed Highway may not all be doing it voluntarily, and will need to be checked by their dealers.

As well as the financial implications of recalling nearly 7.7 million cars - some analysts are saying that it will cost the firm up to US$2 billion - there are serious concerns about the future of the brand. Toyota needs to deal with the setback swiftly. To date its public utterances have been disappointing. Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the founder of the company, has kept his own counsel on the topic, limiting himself to a few words to Japanese journalists at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. The response of Jim Lentz, the president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, has been equally lame. He insisted the firm had "not lost our edge on quality".

We must disagree. Any car that threatens to send you hurtling towards a wall is lacking something in the quality department. There is also said to be a problem with the Prius, the hybrid car that has gained so much attention for energy efficiency. Its problem is with its brakes, rather than accelerator pedals. The company must now be frank and honest. In recent years we have become used to seeing Japanese politicians caught in some scandal crying profusely and apologising on television. Their business leaders should follow suit. For without something approaching full disclosure, how can we be sure that the problem is being addressed?