Toyota Tries to Avoid Sales Hit From Heated Seat Problem

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As winter temperatures remain low in much of the United States, Toyota (NYSE:TM) had no choice but to stop sales of its popular cars and trucks due to issues with heated seats. The automaker is confident the effects won’t be catastrophic. In fact, the head of sales for Toyota U.S.A. told Reuters there would be a “very minor impact” overall when February sales are tallied. Since cars on lots and cars already in customers’ hands share the problem, Toyota does not have a full grasp of what comes next.

Reports surfaced during the last week of January that Toyota had to stop selling many of its most popular cars because the fabric in models with heated seats was not adequately flame-resistant. Among the models affected were the Corolla, Avalon, Sienna, and Camry, the best-selling car in the United States. The cars Toyotoa told dealers to shelve were mostly made in the U.S. To minimize the chance for a recall, Toyota alerted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) of the problem and its proposed fix.

No word has come from the NHTSA on whether a recall is necessary. All told, more than 30,000 vehicles are included in the “stop-sale” order by Toyota. Bob Carter, head of the Toyota U.S.A. sales division, told Reuters the issue was being addressed and that any effects on February sales would be negligible. Carter described the 13 percent now on hold “a small percentage of current inventories” and noted it would be at least a few weeks before the company could rectify the situation.

A look at the numbers suggests Toyota will face a challenge to avoid any negative impact from the lower sales inventory. Since not every vehicle is equipped with heated seats, it will likely include a higher percentage of cars and trucks in demand during the winter months. Heated seats, once a feature found chiefly in premium cars, are now common in compact and midsize budget models.

The other challenge Toyota faces involves the affected vehicles already sold. According to the Detroit News, Toyota tried to make the case to the NHTSA that a recall was unnecessary because it wasn’t primarily a “vehicle safety” issue. That claim appears questionable, since a seat catching fire would prove to be highly dangerous for anyone inside the vehicle.

Nonetheless, Toyota is moving quickly to repair the problem and give the green light to dealers hoping to sell the automaker’s popular cars and trucks. It’s a very cold winter in the U.S., and Toyota doesn’t need any more obstacles as it tries to make the most of February sales.

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