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Toyota Prius ‘most dependable compact car’

Dependable: Toyota Prius owners reported the fewest problems with their cars.

US car reliability study shows Toyota still ranks highly with owners, despite strife

Toyota logo22 Mar 2010

TOYOTA’S embattled American operation received a glimmer of good news when it and its luxury Lexus arm were named in the top six car brands for dependability in America, despite ongoing question marks over vehicle safety and an international recall involving more than eight million vehicles.

The hybrid Prius – subject of a highly publicised unintentional acceleration claim in California recently – was lauded as the most reliable compact car in the survey of three-year-old cars by JD Power and Associates.

Three other Toyota vehicles topped their class – Highlander (Kluger) and Sequoia SUVs and Tundra large pick-up – in the annual survey of 52,000 vehicle owners done late last year, as Toyota’s safety dramas began to gain national headlines across North America.

A possible recall of 1.2 million American-made Corolla and Matrix vehicles is the latest drama on the agenda after reports of engine stalling due to faulty electronics.

As well, American news outlets carried colourful reports of a California Highway Patrol (CHiP) officer’s account of an incident in which a “runaway” Prius driven by a 61-year-old real estate agent accelerated to more than 140km/h, prompting the driver to call 911 emergency.

The official report by the CHiP officer, Todd Neibert, appears to back up claims that the driver was standing on the brake trying to stop the Prius, saying he saw the driver arching his back as he presumably pressed on the brake pedal and that the car’s brake lights were lit as it accelerated up a hill on the San Diego freeway at high speed.

 center image From top: Toyota Highlander, Toyota Sequoia, Toyota Tundra and Pontiac Vibe.

The officer said that by the time the car was stopped with the double application of parking and foot brakes, the brake pads were worn to the metal.

Toyota said an investigation by Toyota engineers could find no evidence of any fault that was consistent with the claims by the driver.

“Toyota engineers believe that it would be extremely difficult for the Prius to be driven at a continuous high speed with more than light brake-pedal pressure, and that the assertion that the vehicle could not be stopped with the brakes is fundamentally inconsistent with basic vehicle design and the investigation observations,” Toyota said in a statement on March 15.

The investigation by Toyota engineers was observed by officials of the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and a congressional representative.

While Toyota was defending its reputation, JD Power delivered some good news by releasing the results of its 2010 vehicle dependability study which measures the problems experienced by owners of three-year-old cars.

While low-volume German sportscar-maker Porsche topped the rankings, ahead of Ford prestige brand Lincoln and GM’s Buick, both Lexus and Toyota made it into the top six, ahead of their respective direct rivals such as Honda and Infiniti.

Toyota’s overall score of 128 – expressed as the number of reported problems per 100 vehicles sold – was well ahead of the industry average of 155, while the Lexus score of 115 points was better again. Porsche’s top score was 110.

Toyota had the most segment winners of any brand – four. Lexus also scored a winner with its GX470 for the fifth year in a row, with a sensationally good model score of 99 points.

But it will be Prius’s win in the compact car class with a score of 103 points that will most gratify Toyota, coming on the back of a global recall of its latest third-generation hybrid hero to address complaints of an inconsistent brake-feel in February.

It was the Prius’s second consecutive win in the survey, which is determined by the number of problems per 100 vehicles.

Toyota Motor Sales USA president Jim Lentz expressed an element of relief at the survey outcome when he said: “This is great news and timely for both our customers and our dealers, as it provides reassurance our vehicles continue to be a benchmark for quality.”

As a brand, Toyota improved its score by a point over its 2009 result, but its ranking slipped from fourth to sixth, while Lexus dropped from third to fourth as Porsche leaped up the rankings from 11th to first.

Meanwhile, Toyota has written to the NHTSA saying it is considering how to fix a flaw in an electronic system in almost 1.2 million North American Corolla and Matrix models that can be prone to stalling.

NHTSA said it had received 26 complaints of engines stalling because of failures in the engine control modules.

Toyota said it believed the ECU could malfunction because of a crack in soldered joints in the unit or because of an electrical short. Both conditions could cause the engine to shut down without warning or fail to start, it said.

The stalling problem affects 1.19 million Corolla and Matrix models from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 model years, Toyota said.

Any remedy is also likely to include GM’s Pontiac Vibe, a sister vehicle of the Matrix and was built on the same line at the Toyota-GM joint venture plant, New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI), in Fremont, California.

The Vibe also was part of Toyota's floor mat and accelerator pedal recalls that included the Matrix.

The Vibe has been discontinued by GM as it winds down its Pontiac brand in the wake of its chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings last year.

2010 US dependability study top 10:
Rank Make Dependability
1 Porsche 110
2 Lincoln 114
3 Buick 115
4 Lexus 115
5 Mercury 121
6 Toyota 128
7 Honda 132
8 Ford 141
9 Mercedes-Benz 142
10 Acura 143

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