When an automaker has a defective vehicle on its hands, it can either wait for regulators to crack down or propose a “voluntary” recall to get out in front of the issue. Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE:TM) is taking the proactive route with its Sienna minivan recall as the company announced Thursday drivers could shift out of “Park” without having a foot on the brake pedal in vehicles from five model years.
Depressing the brake pedal to shift out of “P” is a standard safety feature on nearly every modern vehicle, making the adjustment mandatory down the road for Toyota. According to a company statement, approximately 615,000 Sienna minivans will be affected from models years 2004, 2005, and 2007 to 2009. Toyota said it will notify owners about how to proceed via first-class snail mail. Owners can also find resources on Toyota’s customer assistance page.
Toyota sold 11,858 Sienna minivans in August, an increase of nearly 23 percent over August 2012 figures. So far in 2013, the Sienna is second only to the Honda (NYSE:HMC) Odyssey in minivan sales in the United States. The segment has been shrinking for over a decade and now commands only a sliver of the U.S. auto market.
According to a report by Fortune magazine, minivan sales are down to 3.7 percent of the market in 2013, less than half of the 8 percent minivans represented near the turn of the twenty-first century. Modern buyers have tired of the unglamorous look of a vehicle that represents the 1980s and soccer mom culture in so many ways. Nonetheless, automakers stand to profit considerably in a segment where models such as the Sienna and Honda Odyssey sell over 100,000 units this year.
Honda showed how important the segment is to its brand in the commitment to earning Top Safety Pick Plus designation from the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration earlier this year. Since receiving that designation for the 2014 Odyssey, Honda has been poised to further its lead in the minivan segment. Through August, Honda sold 90,797 Odyssey minivans in the U.S. to Toyota’s 85,025 Siennas. This recall may allow Honda to widen the gap.