Even as Toyota celebrates its 16th straight year as Australia’s top-selling vehicle brand and its biggest sales numbers in six years – despite a shrinking market – the Japanese brand’s hard-earned reputation for reliability is being dented by a series of serious issues.
They include a potential class-action law suit, the third-highest number of product safety recalls in its local history and an engine design fault with its most popular model that reduces it to limp home in dusty conditions .
Toyota insists it’s on top of all these problems, declaring the way it treats its affected customers – it refers to them as guests – will determine whether they hurt its sales performance.
“Recalls are a fact of life in this industry and it’s how we deal with those recalls, how transparent and honest and upfront we are with our guests that will dictate whether there is any negative impact,” Toyota Australia sales and marketing chief Sean Hanley said.
“We would prefer these issues not to arise, the fact is as safety technology increases, as connected-mobility technology increases, as technology of mobility increases, these kinds of things are a fact of life.
“Our guests, our Toyota customers can be completely, 100 per cent confident that Toyota will act quickly, efficiently and safely. Always, 100 per cent.”
Significantly, Toyota announced on Friday it was upping its new vehicle warranty to five years, leaving Nissan as the only top-10 seller still offering only three years.
Toyota’s current domination of the Australian new vehicle market is epic.
It has almost double the share of any other brand, the HiLux utility is the top-selling vehicle and the Corolla and RAV4 join it in the top 10.
It has also improved its position immediately after it closed its local factory and became an importer.
Holden, which went through the same process at the same time, has tumbled to sixth on sales and its smallest sales numbers in decade.
With a new-generation RAV4 among several important launches in 2019, Mr Hanley forecast Toyota Australia would again sell more than 200,000 vehicles.
“We believe that over a long period of time there are two reasons Toyota is the market leader; one is we continue to have a strong product particularly in the growth areas of LCV and SUV,” Mr Hanley said.
“The second thing is in the last five years we have had an incredible transformation of not only our own company but also around the guest experience with our dealer network.”
But plenty of Toyota’s guests are now finding themselves embroiled in reliability issues and recalls.
The class-action law suit threatened by Bannister Law relates to the diesel particulate filters fitted to the 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine powering the HiLux as well as the Prado and Fortuner SUVs as far back as 2015.
Bannister Law alleges the DPF fails to burn off particulate matter in urban driving conditions, resulting in increased fuel consumption, engine wear and tear and “excessive emission of foul-smelling white fumes from the exhaust tail-pipe”.
Toyota announced an upgrade to include a manual DPF activation switch earlier this year. It has also written to owners offering to clean or replace the DPF and retro-fit the switch.
‘Dusting’ affects the same engine. Dust leaks past the air filter and drops the vehicle into ‘limp home’ mode.
Toyota says it happens in only extreme conditions. A design fix may arrive from Japan this year, but that’s yet to be confirmed.
These issues potentially affect more than 200,000 vehicles in-service in Australia.
The most recent of the 17 recalls issued in 2018 for Toyota and its Lexus luxury brand were for replacement of the Continuously Variable Transmission fitted to the latest Corolla, which is Australia’s top-selling passenger car.
“I am very pleased to say Toyota is in front of all those issues,” Mr Hanley said.
“We have had contact with all these guests, we are fixing these vehicles as quickly as possible; in terms of the Corolla we are offering loan cars right now.”