By Gabe Nelson, Crain News Service
WASHINGTON (Feb. 4, 2014) — Auto makers issued more recalls in 2013 than the year before, with Toyota Motor Corp. again recalling the most cars and trucks, a new government report shows.
The report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), first disclosed Feb. 3 by The New York Times, shows that vehicle manufacturers initiated 632 recall campaigns in the U.S. in 2013, covering 22 million vehicles. That is up from 2012, when they issued 581 vehicle recalls covering 16.4 million vehicles.
These numbers include heavy-duty trucks, motorcycles and buses — not just light-duty vehicles. But the figures for auto companies tell a similar story.
The largest 18 auto makers issued 184 recalls in the U.S. in 2013, covering about 19.6 million vehicles, the report shows. Both numbers are increases from 2012, when those same companies issued 153 recalls for about 15.6 million vehicles.
For the second straight year, Toyota called back more than 5 million vehicles in the U.S., the most of any auto maker. As it does every year, however, NHTSA cautioned against reading too much into that number.
"These tallies are not used to evaluate manufacturers or to evaluate which recalls the agency may need to investigate or monitor," the agency's report says. "There are a host of reasons why a manufacturer could have more or fewer recalls in a given year."
Yet the rapid pace of recalls by Toyota may be a sign of a company determined to avoid any quarrel with auto safety regulators and trial lawyers in the U.S., where the auto maker — long revered for its quality record — is still recovering from a government investigation into alleged unintended-acceleration incidents.
Toyota was forced to recall more than 11 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles worldwide and has since spent billions of dollars to settle lawsuits stemming from the unintended-acceleration allegations.
Chrysler Group L.L.C., which recalled about 1.6 million older Jeep Grand Cherokee and Jeep Liberty vehicles in 2013 to resolve NHTSA's concerns about fire risks, had the second most recalled vehicles last year with 4.7 million, up from 1.3 million in 2012.
The numbers also hint at improvement by General Motors Co., which has crowed about improving quality since the auto maker topped J.D. Power and Associates' closely watched Initial Quality Study last year.
GM issued 23 recalls in 2013, the second most in the industry after Chrysler; but those recalls covered just 757,677 vehicles, fewer than Ford Motor Co., Chrysler, Honda, Toyota, Nissan or Hyundai-Kia, all of which sell fewer cars and trucks than GM.
GM said that data mining has allowed it to spot quality problems faster, then isolate the affected cars and fix them more quickly.
Maureen Foley-Gardner, director of field performance evaluation at GM, told Automotive News last year that the auto maker was using a new "track and trace" database for about 20 percent of field actions in 2013, up from 5 percent in 2012.
"It has become crystal clear to me that it's having an impact," she said at the time.
Honda (2.8 million), Hyundai-Kia (2.2 million) and Ford (1.2 million) rounded out the top five in terms of vehicles recalled in 2013.
This report appeared on autonews.com, the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.