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Toyota Tundra Probe Expands

A federal review of faulty suspensions could lead to another recall of the pickup and another black mark on the automaker's reputation.

August 08, 2006|From Bloomberg News

Toyota Motor Corp.'s Tundra pickup may be recalled for the second time in two years after complaints of suspension failures prompted U.S. auto safety officials to upgrade an investigation.

The inquiry covers 219,522 Tundras from 2003 and 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Monday. The agency is continuing a review linked to last year's recall of 775,000 Tundras and other vehicles. It also began a probe of 2004 and 2005 Sienna minivans because lift gates may fail.

The reviews mark the latest quality issues for Toyota City, Japan-based Toyota, the world's second-largest automaker. The company's brand image may be hurt by rising recalls, Fitch Ratings said July 28, citing a worldwide recall of nearly 1 million Corollas and Prius hybrids.

"This tarnishes their reputation a little bit," said Eric Merkle, an analyst for consulting firm IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids, Mich. "Toyota is viewed as the pinnacle of quality. That isn't something they established in the last year or two. They did that over 30 or 40 years, and it doesn't go away overnight."

Toyota spokeswoman Ming-Jou Chen said the automaker was cooperating with auto safety officials "in their investigation of both vehicles."

Last year's Tundra recall was for the replacement of ball joints, a suspension component that may have been scratched during assembly. After four complaints of the same problem in other model years, the safety administration opened a review of 2003 and 2004 models this year.

The agency said Monday that it had found 142 incidents of ball-joint separations. The part fails nearly twice as often on four-wheel-drive versions of the pickup compared with two-wheel-drive models, the investigation summary said.

The safety review is a three-stage process, beginning with a preliminary evaluation, like the one being done of the Sienna. Three out of 4 of those reviews are closed without further action. The others are upgraded to a second step, called an engineering analysis. Seven in 10 of those upgraded probes lead to recalls.

The 2005 recall included Sequoia and 4Runner sport utility vehicles, as well as Tacoma pickups. Eric Bolton, a safety administration spokesman, said the ball-joint review was limited to the Tundra because the agency had received additional complaints only about the pickup.

Toyota said Friday that profit rose 39%, helped by higher U.S. sales that have put the company close to ending General Motors Corp.'s eight-decade run as the world's biggest automaker.

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