Toyota Revives the Lexus GX 460, Showing That It Finally "Gets It" on Safety

Last Updated May 10, 2010 10:53 AM EDT

Toyota's "Easy" button (as in the one Staples (SPLS) made famous) has been getting limited use lately, but some things have started going Toyota's way, and the button is going to get a workout.

For instance, Consumer Reports last week dropped its potentially lethal "Don't Buy" recommendation against the Lexus GX 460. Go ahead and give that "Easy" button a push, Toyota (TM). And keep it handy. (In case you've been on a desert island, the "Easy" button, when pushed, says in an distorted, electronic voice, "THAT was easy!")

Just three weeks after Toyota pulled the Lexus SUV from showrooms and recalled certain models that were already sold, Consumer Reports said it's satisfied with a software fix Toyota came up with to solve the problem with the vehicle's stability control system. The magazine said it recommends owners affected by the recall should get the fix immediately, but otherwise Consumer Reports said it was OK with the vehicle.

The issue with the Lexus GX 460 was that Consumer Reports said the vehicle skidded excessively in emergency-maneuver testing. Toyota was already under fire for unintended acceleration-related recalls of millions of cars worldwide. After being accused of dragging its feet over unintended acceleration, Toyota more or less instantly halted sales of the Lexus GX 460.

Ongoing problems notwithstanding -- my BNET Auto buddy Jim Motavalli reported separately that unintended acceleration isn't going away by any means -- I think the Consumer Reports thing shows Toyota finally "gets it."

True, Toyota boss Akio Toyoda was slow to take personal responsibility. Since then, however, I think Toyota has started writing its own, how-it-should-be-done case study for a future Harvard Business Review case study: "How Toyota Handled the Crisis."

For instance, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last month fined Toyota $16.4 million for a delay in reporting unintended-acceleration complaints. Instead of standing on principle and prolonging the public spectacle, Toyota simply paid it. (Hit the button: "THAT was easy!")

In addition, everybody in the auto industry, except maybe General Motors, Ford (F), Chrysler, Honda (HMA) and Nissan (NSANF.PK), worried that Toyota sales would tank when people kept hearing about unintended acceleration.

Toyota responded with record incentives -- by its own standards, at least -- and Toyota's U.S. sales increased 41 percent in March and 24 percent in April, giving the automaker a market share boost each month. Even so, Toyota incentives are still way below those of the Detroit companies. (Hit the button: "THAT was easy!")

Toyota still has a long way to go before it can declare itself past the crisis. There will be a lot more gut-wrenching testimony from accident victims or their survivors. Still, the history of the auto industry proves that as unpleasant as it is for Toyota, all that's going to cost Toyota is money. And Toyota has plenty of that.

Photo: Staples