When it comes to recalls, Toyota’s not alone

Thanks to a highly integrated industry, massive recalls shouldn’t be a surprise

First, it was Toyota issuing recall after recall. Then others, including Honda, Nissan, and General Motors, followed suit. With millions of vehicles from different auto manufacturers affected over the last few months alone, drivers could be forgiven for feeling nervous. But experts say these seemingly massive recall numbers shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Following harrowing reports of runaway vehicles, Toyota issued its largest-ever recalls, covering some 5.6 million vehicles in just the U.S. As executives were hauled before U.S. Congress, other automakers rolled out campaigns of their own (last week, GM recalled 1.3 million North American vehicles over faulty power steering). With Toyota drawing fire over its alleged foot-dragging on safety issues, rival automakers likely “didn’t want to be tarred with the same brush,” says Craig Hoff, a professor of mechanical engineering at Kettering University in Flint, Mich.

But the pile-up of recalls also shows how, in such a highly integrated industry, problems can spread like wildfire. In a growing trend, Toyota is one of several manufacturers using “the same platform—the underpinnings of a vehicle—across a variety of models,” Hoff notes. Some even share designs and parts with competitors, and are reducing the number of suppliers they deal with, creating even more overlap. France’s PSA Peugeot Citroën had to recall nearly 100,000 vehicles made in the Czech Republic, where it shares a factory with Toyota; and the Pontiac Vibe, sold by GM but jointly manufactured with Toyota, was also subject to a recall. This week, Daihatsu Motor, a subsidiary of Toyota, recalled 275,000 vehicles in Japan.

According to Tony Faria, an automotive expert at the University of Windsor, “today’s cars are as safe, or safer, than before.” But as companies move to an ever-smaller number of platforms and suppliers, he says, recall numbers “will keep getting bigger.” M