Toyota Led Industry for Recalls in 2013, But Is There a Silver Lining?

Toyota U S A Headquarters exteriors, Torrance, Ca.

There are certainly benefits to being the world’s largest automaker by volume, though as Toyota (NYSE:TM) is finding out, there are also drawbacks. When you’re making the most units of something, everything is big — big materials, big manufacturing, big supply networks, and when things go bad, big recalls.

Toyota was slapped with the dubious honor of leading the industry in recalls in 2013, having pulled back some 5 million units during the 12-month period. It wasn’t just Toyota, though — a government report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicates that automakers initiated more recalls than ever before in 2013, and Toyota happened to be leading the pack, Automotive News reports.

All told, 632 recall campaigns were executed in the United States in 2013, cumulatively covering 22 million vehicles, the report said. That’s a rather significant increase from 2012, when the collective industry launched 581 vehicle recalls covering 16.4 million vehicles.

It should be pointed out that motorcycles, heavy trucks, and buses were also covered in that figure, though light-duty passenger vehicles likely make up the bulk of the affected units. The largest 18 auto manufacturers were responsible for 184 recalls in the U.S. during the year, covering the vast majority of vehicles, at about 19.6 million.

It was Toyota’s second consecutive time surpassing the 5 million unit threshold, though the NHTSA warns that the numbers from a specific manufacturer don’t necessarily hold a lot of weight.

“These tallies are not used to evaluate manufacturers or to evaluate which recalls the agency may need to investigate or monitor,” the agency said in its report. “There are a host of reasons why a manufacturer could have more or fewer recalls in a given year.”

The NHTSA contends that while it appears Toyota’s quality is slipping due to the higher number of recalled units, it might actually be at least a partially preventative measure to ensure that the company doesn’t encounter a situation like it did with the unintended acceleration problems, which forced a recall of more than 11 million Toyota and Lexus vehicles globally.

Around the industry, Honda recalled 2.8 million vehicles, Hyundai-Kia had 2.2 million, and Ford called back 1.2 million. General Motors, though it issued 23 recalls during the year (second only to Chrysler in terms of number of recalls launched), cumulatively covered just 757,677 vehicles.

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