|A Toyota Prius car arrives at a garage Tuesday to have its software reprogrammed in Isleworth, London. Toyota has announced a worldwide recall of its Prius model due to safety concerns over braking issues. Some 8,500 cars are affected in the UK. Photo: Getty
By Chen Xiaomin and Qiu Wei
BEIJING, Feb. 11 --Toyota is being hit hard by a storm of criticism stemming from the US and now China – its top two markets – following massive automobile recalls in recent weeks.
The Japanese automaker has pulled 8.5 million vehicles off the roads as a result of sticking accelerator pedals and braking problems.
But in a sharp contrast to media reports out of the US, voices of leniency and softened tones have emerged in China on the issue, with some people going as far as highlighting the massive safety recalls as a sign of "responsible business operations."
However, some auto industry analysts in China, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Global Times Wednesday Agenciesthat certain media practitioners in the country have sacrificed impartiality in their reporting, bowing instead to requests by influential multinational corporations.
|Graphics shows Toyota recalls 155,000 Prius, Lexus and Camry Vehicles in U.S. on Feb. 9, 2010. (Xinhua/Chen Chen)|
In the wake of the recalls, Chinese consumers face increasing exposure to design and manufacturing faults, due to weak quality assurance measures on the mainland, analysts warned Wednesday.
The latest blow to consumer safety and confidence came Wednesday as the Honda Motor Company said it would recall 438,000 cars globally to replace an airbag inflator that can reportedly injure drivers during a crash.
Additionally, US authorities said Tuesday that they were reviewing complaints by Toyota Corolla owners about steering problems. Toyota made no immediate comment on the fresh claims.
More than 75,000 of Toyota's RAV4 SUVs are among the recalled models in China, but none of the defective Honda models are yet sold in the country.
Belated apologies by Toyota president Akio Toyoda amid the safety crisis seemed to pale in the face of angered consumers in the US, as members of Congress alleged that Toyota knew about the "sticky accelerators" for years but was slow to respond until it was forced into action by US transportation safety authorities.
The Toyota chief is expected to testify to the US Congress about the recalls, Japan's transport minister said Wednesday.
"President Toyoda told me (Tuesday) that he would like to visit the United States as early as next week and give a firm explanation to all the stakeholders involved," Seiji Maehara told US Ambassador John Roos. "I think he will give an explanation to Congress."
The problems could damage confidence in all Japanese cars, as auto analyst Tatsuya Mizuno told AFP that "Toyota is a representative of Japan Inc. The issue may shake the credibility of the whole of Japan and its technology."
Zhong Shi, a Beijing-based auto industry analyst, said Chinese consumers seem to be reluctant to file complaints, as most of them are not well-enough informed on where to turn to when problems arise.
"Authorities can hardly be notified of any major production defects because they can't count on carmakers to take the initiative by timely reporting their problems," Zhong said.
More than 3.3 million vehicles have been involved in more than 211 recalls in the auto industry in China since the reporting mechanism was established five years ago, with Mercedes-Benz topping the ranking with 18 recalls and Toyota with nine recalls, figures by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) indicated.
Only one-third of the recalls have happened as a result of AQSIQ pressure.
The AQSIQ was not available for comment Wednesday.
The China Consumers' Association said Wednesday that it was "unable to categorize products and services by brands" when collecting feedback for their quarterly and annual reviews of consumer complaints.
An anonymous official said that, upon receiving an amount of complaints over certain products, the agency "reports to related authorities," though he didn't elaborate further.
Yang Li, an auto industry consultant, said that foreign automakers don't honor universal standards in their production and "discrimination against Chinese consumers exist" due to loose monitoring regulations in the country.
"The standards of design, configuration and specifications of spare parts on vehicles sold to China are lower than those in North America and Europe," Yang said.
Toyota on Tuesday expanded its global recall to more than 400,000 of its Prius models and other petrol-electric hybrid models, pledging to fix 8.7 million vehicles worldwide.
Toyota's stock fell more than 20 percent in about two weeks and was trading at 3,410 yen ($38) Wednesday.
Honda's recall Wednesday of more than 437,763 vehicles worldwide due to concerns about faulty airbags increases the number recalled to more than 900,000 since late 2008.
The latest recall, involving certain 2001 and 2002 models, includes about 420,000 units of Accord, Civic, TL, CR-V SUVs and Odyssey minivans in the US and Canada; 4,000 units of Inspire in Japan and 13,000 vehicles in other regions, Honda China said in a statement.
The statement said the recall affected no models sold on the Chinese mainland because auto parts used there are different from those used on the involved vehicles.
Japan's second-largest automaker recalled 514,355 units of certain 2001 and 2002 Accord, Civic and certain 2002 Acura TL models in North America, Japan and other regions between November 2008 and July 2009.
Honda said that although it wasn't aware of additional incidents following its last recall in July, it "couldn't be completely certain that the driver's-airbag inflator in the vehicles being added to this recall at this time will perform as designed."
There were two types of manufacturing machines used in pressing the inflator propellant. One propellant-manufacturing process allowed us to verify that all of the propellants were within specifications, but we cannot validate the other process to our satisfaction at this time, Honda said.
(Source: Global Times)
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