Toyota Ghana has initiated a move to recall about 15,000 of its vehicles with faulty Takata airbags for them to be replaced with the improved life-saving gadgets.
The vehicles include some Toyota models made from 2002 to 2014 and may have airbags that are prone to exploding when deployed, hurling fiery metal fragments into drivers and passengers which could cause injury or even death.
Globally, at least 16 deaths are now linked to the defect, including five in Malaysia, that prompted the recall of nearly 100 million airbag inflators worldwide by more than a dozen automakers. An airbag is an inflatable cushion designed to protect automobile occupants from serious injury in the case of a collision. A feature in luxurious vehicles, it is gradually becoming a standard feature in most vehicles.
On the list in Ghana are IMV Hilux (2003 to 2014); IMV Fortuner (2003 to 2014); Avensis (2003 to 2008); Yaris (2006 to 2008); Corrola (2002 to 2014) and RAV4 (2003 to 2005) models.
At the 2017 Toyota users conference in Accra on Thursday, the Executive Director of Toyota Ghana, Dr Eric Darko, said the company had so far replaced about 2,500 of the faulty airbags.
He said Toyota Ghana had a list of all those who bought vehicles with the airbag challenge from it and was calling the customers one by one to have the problem fixed.
He, however, said the company was willing to change the airbags of even those who did not buy their vehicles from it for free.
“The only thing is if you have any car like that, let us know, if it is one of those cars that have been affected, we have an international system. We would check and replace it for free.
“We have some cars that have been in the system for a long time and it is believed that over time, the airbags functionality may not perform very well because of a number of factors, including heat. You just bring it and we will change the airbag system,” he said.
This is not the first time Toyota Ghana is making a recall to fix a faulty vehicle part. From 2010 to date, Toyota Ghana has made four recalls involving 1,100 vehicles with accelerator pedal problems; 1,400 vehicles with power window master switch and 25 vehicles with rear seat cushion frame.
Meanwhile, the company at the centre of auto industries biggest-ever product recall, filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States (US) and Japan, with its troubles deepening by billions in liability claims
Takata airbag problem
The Takata airbag recall is not limited to only Toyota and affects almost all major automakers.
According to experts, the vehicles in question are equipped with Takata airbag inflators which utilise a propellant that may degrade over time after they had experienced long-term exposure to environmental moisture and fluctuating high temperatures.
In some cases, inflators may also have certain manufacturing defects that cause moisture intrusion and propellant degradation.
Inflator propellant degradation is accelerated in warmer climates with high absolute humidity.
Propellant degradation creates excessive internal pressure when the airbag is deployed and can cause the inflator to rupture.
In the event of an inflator rupture, metal fragments could pass through the airbag cushion material, striking the vehicle occupants and may result in serious injury or death.
Nine of 11 US deaths have been reported in 2001-2003 model Honda and Acura vehicles which in June this year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) classified as high risk and urged owners to immediately stop driving until they got repairs.
Touching on why it was important to buy vehicles from authorised dealers, Dr Dako said Toyota vehicles were made for specific terrains, which took into consideration environment, weather and technology for after sales service.
He said given the nature of Ghanaian roads, Toyota, for instance, reinforced the suspension of its vehicles and buying from companies not authorised only increased expenditure on maintenance.
“All the vehicles that Toyota Ghana brings are having severe usage suspension. This kind of suspension is the best for rough road conditions. Although it is a bit expensive, we believe that it is a better product quality to meet the needs of our terrain and customer satisfaction.
“We are in the tropical zone and our temperatures are always high and we have cars that are brought from temperate regions into the country. What happens is that these cars are not meant for Ghana. So you either have problems or buy a car with so many components you never use and it adds to the cost. Since they are not suitable for the terrain, they easily break down,” he said.
He advised the motoring public to beware of the vehicles they imported, since some vehicles needed extra technical skills and facilities to repair which were not available in Ghana.
He cited hybrid engines as an example, saying “the hybrid engines have very high voltage of 600 volts, and definitely, you would need experts to repair, otherwise, you can have problems.”
The Managing Director (MD) of Toyota Ghana, Mr Takuya Kajiura, said the company was interested in promoting transparency in operations, high integrity and high level of customer service with the view to improving upon customer trust and loyalty.
“We will continue to ensure that every customer contact is of the highest quality, so that we can create new Toyota advocates to increase awareness of Toyota products and service in our market,” he said.
A representative of Toyota Motor Corporation, Ms Ayako Koizumi, stated that before a Toyota model went into production, “it goes around the earth 2.5 times.”