Complaint data put Toyota in better light

Edmunds database shows 'no smoking gun,' takes market share into account

February 12, 2010|By Jerry Hirsch | Tribune newspapers

Auto information and pricing company Edmunds.com took a look at the number of complaints drivers have filed about carmakers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and compared them with the number of autos the

companies have on the road.

By that measure, Toyota Motor Corp. looked pretty good.

According to the database, which Edmunds noted consists of complaints from individuals and is not checked for accuracy by NHTSA, Toyota was the subject of 9.1 percent of the complaints from 2001 through Feb. 3. During that period, Toyota had a 13.5 percent slice of the U.S. auto market.

The period includes a time in which Toyota has issued recalls for millions of vehicles for problems related to unintended acceleration and braking, with about 2 million vehicles subject to more than one recall.

"Right now it doesn't appear that the complaint level in relation to the number of Toyotas on the road is more than any other manufacturer. There is no smoking gun," said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Edmunds.com.

He said the data provide an important "perspective" to the Toyota recalls. All automakers are going to have complaints and recalls.What matters is how seriously they take the complaints and how they conduct the recalls, he said.

"As Toyota's experience in recent months clearly demonstrates, it is no longer an option for car companies to dismiss consumer complaints, even if the event is difficult to replicate or diagnose," he said.

But Anwyl also expressed empathy for automakers trying to figure out what's going on. "As a responsible car company, what can you do if you can't replicate the issue someone is complaining about? That is the conundrum facing every car company," Anwyl said.

Moreover, the data in the complaints are often "confusing and contradictory because consumers are diagnosing their own issues and they are categorizing them and describing them in different ways," Anwyl said.

If nothing else, the analysis by Edmunds .com gives shoppers one indicator of long-term quality by manufacturers, because it includes so many years of data.

Besides Toyota, the major automakers that had a smaller percentage of complaints than their market share for the period examined included Honda, Nissan,

BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai.

Those that had more than would be expected based on their share of the market included General Motors, Ford,

Chrysler (the worst-faring of the Detroit automakers), Mazda and Volvo.

Auto information supplier Kelley Blue Book said it has found that Toyota's recalls have eaten into its once-vaunted market perception.

Kelley said its research indicates that 27 percent of the shoppers who were considering a Toyota before the recalls now say they no longer are looking at the brand for their next purchase.

The trend extends to Toyota's other nameplates. The survey reports that 28 percent of shoppers looking at a Scion and 23 percent of those considering a Lexus before the Toyota recalls now say they no longer are considering those brands.

jhirsch@tribune.com

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