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Toyota Prado not caught in US safety scare

Stable: The Australian Prado is built in the same factory as the US Lexus GX460 but, according to Toyota, has unique ESC calibration.

Australian Prado not caught up in overseas safety issue, despite model similarities

Toyota logo14 Apr 2010

TOYOTA Australia has advised that it will not be suspending sales of Australia’s biggest-selling SUV – the LandCruiser Prado – in response to a showroom freeze announced overnight in the US for the Prado-based Lexus GX460.

Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) has halted sales of the Lexus GX – which is built in Japan at the same plant, and has the same underpinnings, as the Australian Prado – after an influential consumer magazine urged Americans not to purchase the vehicle, calling it a “safety risk” that could be involved in a rollover crash.

The magazine, Consumer Reports, handed down a “don’t buy” verdict after experiencing a problem during its emergency handling tests. It said that when pushed to its limits, the rear of the GX “slid out until the vehicle was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control”.

“We believe that in real-world driving, that situation could lead to a rollover accident, which could cause serious injury or death,” the magazine said. “We are not aware, however, of any such reports.”

In response, Toyota has suspended sales of the GX460 pending a “vigorous” engineering evaluation.

 center image Left: The GX460 being tested by Consumer Reports magazine.

“We are taking the situation with the GX460 very seriously and are determined to identify and correct the issue Consumer Reports identified,” said Lexus Group vice-president and general manager, Mark Templin. “At this time we have asked our dealers to temporarily suspend sales of the 2010 GX460.

“Lexus’ extensive vehicle testing provides a good indication of how our vehicles perform and we are confident that the GX meets our high safety standards. Our engineering teams are vigorously testing the GX using Consumer Reports’ specific parameters to identify how we can make the GX’s performance even better.”

Toyota Australia spokesman Mike Breen has told GoAuto that the issue was specific to the V8 engine – including its additional weight and its interaction with the vehicle stability control (VSC) system – in the GX460, which is not available in the Australian Prado.

“We obviously don’t sell that model here, so it doesn’t affect us,” Mr Breen said.

“From what I understand, the article went to great lengths to explain that the (Toyota) 4Runner that they sell in the United States with the V6 engine is based on the Prado platform as well and there are no issues with the V6 4Runner there, so there are no issues with the Prado here.

“The calibration of the VSC would be different for the V8 car, which would be different obviously to the Prado that we sell here. The VSCs are calibrated to the environment that they operate in, and the Australian environment is obviously quite different to the United States.

“We have had no enquiries or any concerns from customers about that issue, and that’s obviously how we pick it up – and we’ve sold quite a few thousand since we launched it.

“No customers have complained about the VSC coming in too late, or any concerns with the VSC’s operation as far as timing is concerned.”

Mr Breen said Toyota Australia would continue to monitor events in the US “as we always do” and would await specific advice from TMC.

“TMC has a fairly robust process with any of these sorts of things, as probably can be seen over the last few months, so we’ll get advice from TMC in due course,” he said.

The Prado was the biggest-selling SUV in Australia last month, with the new-generation 150-series model spurring on a 94.7 per cent increase – to 2087 sales – on March 2009. In the first three months of this year, Toyota has sold more than 4400 Prados in Australia.

As GoAuto has reported, Lexus Australia has shown interest in selling the GX460 here, but the model is still to be confirmed for right-hand drive.

While it has the same underpinnings as the 150-series Prado, the GX460 has a unique powertrain – a 225kW/446Nm 4.6-litre V8 petrol engine.

Launched last November, the 150 Prado is sold here with a 202kW/381Nm 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine and a 127kW/410Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel.

Consumer Reports magazine said all four of its automotive engineers experienced the handling problem with the GX in an exercise that evaluates lift-off oversteer. In the test, as the vehicle is driven through a turn, the driver quickly lifts his foot off the accelerator pedal to see how the vehicle reacts.

“We perform this evaluation on every vehicle we test, which includes the 95 SUVs in our current auto ratings,” the magazine said. “No other SUV in recent years slid out as far as the GX460, including the Toyota 4Runner, which shares the same platform as the GX.

“To confirm our results, we paid for the use of another GX460 from Lexus and experienced the same problem.

“In real-world driving, lift-off oversteer could occur when a driver enters a highway’s exit ramp or drives through a sweeping turn and encounters an unexpected obstacle or suddenly finds that the turn is too tight for the vehicle’s speed.

“A natural impulse is to quickly lift off the accelerator pedal. If that were to happen in the GX, the rear could slide around far enough that a wheel could strike a kerb or slide off the pavement.

“Either of those scenarios can cause a vehicle to roll over. And because the GX is a tall SUV with a high centre of gravity, our concern for rollover safety is heightened.

“Like almost all current SUVs, the GX has standard ESC. That system is designed to prevent a vehicle from sliding out in a turn and has generally worked very effectively in the vehicles we’ve tested. It does that by applying individual brakes and cutting engine power to help keep the vehicle on its intended path.

“But the GX’s system doesn’t intervene quickly enough to stop the slide, and the rear end swings around too far.

“As a result, we are urging consumers not to buy the GX460 until the problem has been fixed.”

There are no indications at this stage that the GX460 will be subject to a safety recall, although Consumer Reports has provided information to the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The latest safety issue confronting Toyota comes as the Japanese manufacturer continues to deal with the fallout from global safety recalls affecting some 8.5 million vehicles.

No Lexus models were part of the big accelerator pedal recall, but the Toyota luxury division was involved in the separate recall to update software in the anti-lock braking system of certain hybrid models, including the HS250h sold in the US and the Toyota Prius sold in Australia.

Earlier this week, Toyota Australia said it was working to improve quality and customer service at its operations Down Under, with greater resources allocated to its Melbourne-based customer quality engineering group and representation on a new Asia-Oceania regional quality taskforce.

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