Safety recalls affected 20.3 million vehicles, the highest number since 2004, when owners of 30.8 million vehicles received notices to bring their vehicles in for repair, according to data compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The number of recall campaigns last year -- 648 -- is second only to 2008, when car manufacturers initiated 685 campaigns, The Detroit News reported.
The rise in recalls was driven largely by Toyota Motor (TM), which recalled millions of cars and trucks to fix problems related to unintended acceleration. Toyota also suffered from numerous other safety woes, including glitchy brakes on its popular Prius gas-electric hybrid, as well as handling problems that surfaced when Consumer Reports magazine tested its new version of the Lexus GX 460 luxury SUV.
In total, Toyota called back 7.1 million vehicles in 19 separate recalls last year, making it the worst year for recalls on record for the world's largest automaker, The Detroit News noted. The automaker also agreed to pay $48.8 million in fines for failing to initiate three of the recalls more quickly. Prior to 2010, the highest number of vehicles Toyota had recalled in one year was 4.8 billion in nine campaigns in 2009.
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Last month, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons told the News that the automaker is "moving more quickly" in addressing safety defects and issuing recalls when necessary. But he added that the recall numbers need to be put in context, noting that "Toyota has had the lowest number of recalls of any major manufacturer over the past 10 years."
Honda Motor (HMC) and Nissan Motors (NSANY) placed third and fourth, respectively, in the total numbers of vehicles recalled last year. Honda called back 2.4 million vehicles in 15 actions, while Nissan recalled 2.1 million cars and trucks via 16 campaigns. Chrysler Group called back 1.6 million vehicles in 17 campaigns in 2010, compared to 15 campaigns covering 589,000 vehicles in 2009.
Among major suppliers to the U.S. market, only Ford Motor (F) saw its number of recalls drop year over year, the News reported. Last year, the Dearborn, Mich.-based company recalled 581,000 vehicles involving nine actions, down from the 4.5 million it recalled in 2009, largely to fix faulty cruise-control switches.
Among smaller suppliers to the U.S. market, BMW had the largest number of actions (15) if not the most recalled vehicles last year. The German automaker, which has had problems with fuel pumps in some of its vehicles, recalled a total of 288,000 cars and SUVs last year.
All together since 1966, when NHTSA's record of recalls begins, the industry has recalled more than 470 million vehicles. Prior to 2004, the biggest year for recalls in recent years was 2000, when 30.8 million cars, trucks and other vehicles were targeted for repairs.