Toyota's image in 'freefall' over recalls
TOYOTA'S reputation is in "near freefall" in the wake of drivers' worries over faults plaguing eight of its models, brand experts said yesterday.
The world's largest carmaker yesterday launched a recall of more than 400,000 Prius and other hybrids over brake problems, on top of more than 8 million other models being recalled for repairs to accelerator faults and other problems.
In the UK, these include 8,500 of the latest Prius and a total of 180,000 iQ, Yaris, Auris, Corolla, Verso, Avensis, and Aygo models.
BrandIndex, which tracks brand perception for pollsters YouGov, has predicted Toyota would suffer long-term brand damage following the recalls.
The research and consulting organisation said Toyota's reputation had been tarnished by its failure to react quickly to consumer concerns over the faults.
BrandIndex said Toyota's brand perception had "dropped dramatically", having previously ranked among the leading car brands and top 10 per cent of all brands over the past two years.
A spokesman said: "The brand has been in a near freefall over the past ten days in the UK, United States and Germany." The ranking includes quality, value, satisfaction and corporate reputation.
Ted Marzilli, Global BrandIndex's managing director, said the key question for Toyota was how long this dent in consumer perception would last.
He said the firm was facing the same potential damage as Southwest Airlines in the US, which took six months to recover its reputation after being fined for safety violations two years ago.
He said: "The Toyota crisis is similar in magnitude. We wait to see whether there will be a similar recovery period, providing no additional missteps occur."
The Prius fault has been found while braking on bumpy or slippery roads. It threatens to overshadow other problems because of the petrol-electric model's high-profile green image.
Toyota said the fault related to an "inconsistent brake feel" during slow and steady braking on surfaces when the anti-lock braking system (ABS) was activated.
This affects the third-generation version, which has been on sale in the UK since last August.
The 437,000 cars being recalled worldwide also include the Lexus HS250h, which is not available in the UK. There have been reports of more than 120 cases of braking problems in the US but Toyota said there had been no crashes linked to the problem in Europe.
Toyota GB said the recall would include a software upgrade in the ABS. The procedure would be carried out free of charge and would take about 40 minutes using standard test equipment in use at all authorised Toyota service centres.
The company will write to every owner in the next few days. A spokesman said: "The cars are safe to drive. At no time are drivers without brakes."
There was support for the troubled company from the AA, whose president Edmund King said: "We believe that Toyota is dong the right thing by recalling these cars. The consumer prefers manufacturers to be open about potential problems."
The UK models being recalled over accelerator problems are the iQ produced from November 2008 to November 2009; Yaris from November 2005 to September 2009; Auris from October 2006 to January 2010; Corolla from October 2006 to December 2009; Verso from February 2009 to January 2010; Avensis from November 2008 to December 2009; and automatic gearbox Aygo models from February 2005 to August 2009.
However, the UK's largest online used car retailer reported Toyota prices were remaining steady.
Fredrik Skantze, of Autoquake.com, said: "There's been no evident negative impact on consumer demand for used Toyota models that are not included in the recall."
DON'T DRIVE, SAYS 'MR LOOPHOLE'
TOYOTA owners were yesterday urged not to drive vehicles affected by the recalls by the lawyer dubbed "Mr Loophole" due to his success in achieving acquittals for celebrities charged with motoring offences.
In a move placing him in direct conflict with advice issued by Toyota and insurers, Nick Freeman said drivers should get Toyota to pick up their cars for the repair work to avoid legal risks.
He said: "If I had a Toyota, I would not even drive it to the dealership for the repair work to be done. What if you had an accident on the way? You could be criminally liable."
However, Toyota yesterday repeated assurances that drivers' cover was not affected by the recalls and highlighted an announcement by the Association of British Insurers (ABI) last week which stated: "Motor insurance policies will continue to cover Toyota owners affected by the recall.
"Any claims will be dealt with in the normal way, in accordance with the terms and conditions of the policy."
Toyota GB said: "Should this clear reassurance by the ABI not be enough, Toyota will happily offer cover to any Toyota driver, replicating the same terms as their existing policy."
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