Toyota Conducts Safety Tests on All SUV Models

April 15, 2010
Will test the vehicles' stability control and are designed to replicate the Consumer Reports' test that first uncovered the problem

To reassure buyers of their safety after Consumer Reports warned a large Lexus SUV is susceptible to rolling over, Toyota is testing all its sport utility vehicles.

The expanded testing covers the entire lineup of Toyota and Lexus SUVs, including popular models such as the RAV4, the 4Runner and the Highlander, said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons. The automaker will be testing the vehicles' stability control and are designed to replicate the Consumer Reports' test that first uncovered the problem, he said.

Toyota is also suspending production of the Lexus SUV -- the GX 460 -- which is built in Tahara, Japan, for 12 days starting on April 16. Toyota has yet to decide whether it will recall the vehicle, a hefty seven-seat SUV sold mainly in North America but also in the Middle East, Russia and some other nations.

The move reflects a new urgency at Toyota Motor Corp. to deal with safety problems. The automaker in recent months has been plagued by recalls and accusations that it responded too slowly to safety lapses.

"I do think Toyota is responding very quickly," said Rebecca Lindland, automotive analyst at consulting firm IHS-Global Insight. "I think the difference is that this situation has been made very public."

Earlier this week, Consumer Reports said the rear of the GX 460 slides out too far during sharp turns designed to test the vehicle's handling. That puts the back end at risk of hitting a curb and rolling over. Toyota says it does not know what's causing the problem, but was working to address it so the influential magazine, which many shoppers rely on to choose new cars, would retest the vehicle and give it a satisfactory rating.

A small-volume SUV that launched in late December, Toyota has sold just 4,787 GX 460s in the U.S. this year. That represents about 10% of sales for Lexus and just 1% Toyota's overall U.S. sales.

Still, Toyota ordered dealers to stop selling the model in North America on Tuesday within hours of the Consumer Reports warning. On TApril 15, Toyota said it would expand the sales halt to all markets. The model is not sold in Japan.

The problem arose during a standard test on a Consumer Reporters track. In the test, the driver approaches a sharp turn unusually fast, then releases the accelerator pedal to evaluate the vehicle's response. The maneuver mimics what an alarmed driver might do after exiting a highway ramp too fast, Consumer Reports says. In normal circumstances, the electronic stability control a computerized system that helps prevent skidding should keep the car under control. But it took too long to kick in with the GX 460, causing it to slide almost sideways into the turn.

Consumer Reports said the sliding problem did not occur during the same test of the Toyota 4Runner, which shares the same underpinnings as the Lexus SUV.

Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide since October, mostly due to flaws in the automaker's pedal design. The recalls have mostly been confined to Toyota-branded vehicles and the Lexus GX 460 is not covered by them.

Consumer Reports, widely read by many car buyers for its reputation for objectivity, has been critical of Toyota recently. In January, the magazine pulled its "recommended" rating on eight recalled models.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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