In the wake of an influential consumer magazine's discovery of handling problems in the 2010 Lexus GX 460 SUV, Toyota Motor (TM) said Thursday that it's conducting tests on all its sports-utility vehicles to assess their safety, just two days after Toyota suspended sales of the GX 460.
The news comes after road tests conducted by Consumer Reports showed the GX 460 was susceptible to rolling over during accident-avoidance maneuvers on its test track. The nonprofit magazine published an advisory Tuesday on its website, urging consumers to not buy the vehicle until the auto maker addressed the problem.
Toyota said it will examine the stability of each of its SUV models on curves, but it has no plans to recall any models, or halt production of models other than the GX 460, the Wall Street Journal reported on its website. A Toyota spokesman said he wasn't sure how long it would take to complete such tests. The company sells nine SUV models in the U.S. among its Toyota and Lexus brands.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration plans to conduct its own tests on the vehicle, the Journal reported separately. NHTSA investigators will examine the vehicle used by Consumer Reports, agency Administrator David Strickland said Thursday at a meeting of automotive engineers in Detroit. "We will see if the Lexus meets our stability requirements and if not and we will make a decision after that," Strickland said.
The world's largest auto maker said earlier this week it will stop production at its Tahara plant in Japan of the newly introduced GX 460 for nine days beginning Friday, to prevent inventory from building up.
A Potential to Rollover
During a standard track test, which involves sudden turns while lifting off the accelerator, Consumer Reports said the rear of the GX 460 slid out until it was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control.
"In a real-world situation, by that time the car can hit the curb or the side of the road, and that's the situation where, in a vehicle like that, it could cause it to roll over," says Gabriel Shenhar, senior auto test engineer at Consumer Reports, one of four testers to experience the problem.
As with nearly all new SUVs, the GX 460 has standard electronic stability control, a system designed to prevent vehicles from sliding out in a turn. The system, which works by applying individual brakes and cutting engine power to help keep the vehicle on its intended path, has generally been effective in the vehicles Consumer Reports has tested, the magazine said. But, it noted, "the GX's system doesn't intervene quickly enough to stop the slide, and the rear end swings around too far."
To confirm its results, CR paid for the use of another GX 460 from Lexus and experienced the same problem, it said. The magazine noted that some 5,000 GX 460s, which have a base price starting at about $52,000, have been sold in the three months the model has been available in the U.S.
Speedier Response This Time
In addition to notifying Toyota and the public about its findings, Consumer Reports also advised NHTSA of its test results.
Toyota's decision to assess safety of its SUV lineup comes just days after the problem first surfaced. That's a much quicker response than the company has shown in addressing past safety issues, which have resulted in the recall of more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for unintended acceleration and other problems.
The company has been accused of foot dragging in acknowledging safety problems with its vehicles, resulting in the NHTSA issuing a maximum $16.4 million fine against Toyota for failing to act quickly enough to notify the agency of a problem involving "sticky" gas pedals. Toyota has until Monday to accept or contest the penalty.
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