US:Ford is leader in recalled vehicles
Ford is leader in recalled vehicles; Toyota is up, too
But overall, numbers go down in '05
BY JUSTIN HYDE
DETROIT FREE PRESS WASHINGTON BUREAU
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The number of cars and trucks recalled to fix safety problems fell dramatically last year -- but not at Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp.
Both recalled about a million more vehicles in 2005 than they did in 2004.
Ford sought to repair an industry-leading 6 million vehicles, according to federal data analyzed by the Free Press. Two-thirds of its vehicle recalls stemmed from one problem: faulty wiring in a speed control system on four models of trucks and SUVs that was blamed for nearly 1,200 vehicle fires.
Toyota's recalled vehicles nearly doubled to 2.2 million, and its largest recall this year involved 978,000 trucks with a faulty steering control rod built between 1989 and 1996.
Forcing owners to bring their vehicles in for service hurts a brand's image and can cost companies a bundle. Ford's recalls helped boost warranty costs by $500 million in the first nine months of 2005, adding pressure to Ford's cost-cutting plan due Jan. 23 that likely will include plant closures and thousands of job cuts.
In Toyota's case, the increase in recalled vehicles threatens its long-standing reputation for building high-quality vehicles.
Although General Motors Corp. still had the second most vehicles recalled in 2005, it only had to fix about half as many cars and trucks as it did in 2004, when it recalled 11 million vehicles.
That drop was a reason automakers recalled 17 million U.S. cars and trucks in 2005, down from last year's record high of about 30 million.
Toyota's rising recall statistics mirror in part its rise in U.S. sales, which were up 10% through November, but some experts have wondered whether Toyota's rapid growth could lead to quality problems.
The 2005 figures do not include Toyota's recall of 75,000 hybrid Prius sedans in October to fix a problem with stalling engines. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration tracks only those recalls it deems directly related to safety, and since Prius drivers could still rely on their electric power if their gasoline engines stalled, the voluntary recall was not classified as a safety improvement.
Ford spokeswoman Kristen Kinley said the automaker traced its biggest problem in trucks and SUVs built between 1994 and 2002 to brake fluid leaking into and corroding the electrical components of the cruise-control system. Ford asked owners to have their cruise control disconnected until a new wiring harness can be installed, beginning next month.
Kinley said excepting the cruise control issue, Ford's performance on recalls had improved. The company reported 17 recalls to the NHTSA in 2005, compared with 22 in 2004.
"Recall numbers vary from year to year, and they don't necessarily rise consecutively year after year, and they aren't in the case of Ford," Kinley said. "This was a hit to our recall volumes, but the number of actions was down."
Recalls have been rising in recent years, even as overall vehicle quality has risen by several other measures.
Some industry experts cite the Tread Act, the federal law passed in 2000 in the wake of the Ford-Firestone tire debacle, which required automakers to review and share more data about potential problems with the NHTSA.
The Tread Act "has redefined what a recall is," said Toyota spokeswoman Martha Voss. "Things we would have traditionally initiated campaigns on without actually calling them a recall are now categorized differently."
Other experts say automakers still have a wide latitude to bring back vehicles for repairs without triggering a recall by the NHTSA's standards and the negative publicity that such a move usually generates.
"Companies have been doing more internal campaigns," said Marianne Grant, who helps automakers and suppliers with Tread Act compliance for Syncata Corp. "Many manufacturers are very sensitive to stories in the press about the number of recalls."
In a company-wide New Year's address, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said one of the company's tasks in 2006 would be to "reinforce our quality controls."
GM racked up the second most vehicles recalled among automakers in 2005, with 30 campaigns covering 5 million cars and trucks, but improved sharply from 2004, when it issued 42 recalls involving 10.7 million vehicles.
GM spokesman Alan Adler said the company had suffered from an abnormal number of recalls in 2004.
"We want to see fewer recalls, because they do inconvenience our customers, but we have a ways to go," he said.
Grant said 2004 may have been a peak year for recalls, as automakers began reviewing defect data more thoroughly. She also said manufacturers and suppliers were working closely to find problems early.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....