If that move seems like a bit of an overreaction, consider that the symbolic stakes for Toyota are sky-high because of potential damage to its brand image. It's a relatively easy move for the company to make, because compared with its other problems, the GX 460 is small potatoes -- at least in sales-volume terms.
Now, a cynic -- not me, of course -- could understand why Toyota (TM) seemed to hesitate before pulling the "emergency stop" cord that ultimately led to the recall of cars around the world over unintended acceleration problems. The emergency-stop cord, called the andon cord in Japanese, is a big part of the Toyota legend. The idea is that even the humblest assembly line worker is empowered to pull the cord and bring production to a grinding halt if he detects a quality problem.
The unintended acceleration problem, of course, was a much bigger issue than just a few hairs in the paint. Toyota has recalled more than 2.3 million cars in the United States alone since the problem became known. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently said it intends to fine Toyota $16.4 million for an alleged delay in reporting unintended acceleration complaints.
Through March, Camry sales alone were nearly 69,000 for 2010, versus fewer than 5,000 GX 460s, according to AutoData. As painful as it undoubtedly is, that makes halting GX 460 sales hurt a little less.
"At this time we have asked our dealers to temporarily suspend sales of the 2010 GX 460," said Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president and general manager, in a written statement yesterday.
"For more than 20 years, Lexus has made customer safety and satisfaction our highest priorities. We are taking the situation with the GX 460 very seriously and are determined to identify and correct the issue Consumer Reports identified," he said.
Consumer Reports slapped the GX 460 with a rare "Don't Buy" rating because in the magazine's testing, the luxury SUV skidded when its test drivers took their foot off the gas in a relatively high-speed curve. The test is meant to duplicate what might happen if a driver accidentally pulls onto a highway ramp too fast, or if they're surprised by something in the road.
Toyota said its engineers will try to duplicate the magazine test, "to identify how we can make the GX's performance even better."
In the meantime, the company said it will also provide a loaner car for any 2010 GX 460 owners who are concerned about driving their vehicles.
Toyota will know it really, really has a problem if customers demand a loaner car made by somebody else.