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Lexus Fuel Leak Took Almost 2 Years From Diagnosis to Recall, Toyota Says

Toyota Motor Corp. took almost two years to submit its U.S. recall today of Lexus models after the automaker’s initial investigation of a potential gasoline leak failed to find defects in the cars’ fuel-line components.

The first U.S. report of fuel odor was in March 2009, according to a letter Toyota sent today to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Toyota investigated the case and two more reports in 2009, including one from the U.K., and “no abnormality in parts was found,” said Brian Lyons, a spokesman for the Japanese automaker’s U.S. unit in Torrance, California.

Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, voluntarily recalled today about 245,000 Lexus IS and GS luxury cars in the U.S. to inspect and tighten fuel-pressure sensors. Globally, the Toyota City, Japan-based company, is recalling 1.7 million vehicles for potential defects in fuel pipes and pumps, pressure sensors and spare-tire carriers, including 1.28 million units in Japan.

Toyota studied the Lexus issue throughout 2010, and not until reviewing manufacturing processes and an additional defect report could it determine the likely cause was a section of pipe that was tightened improperly, according to the letter. The time needed to uncover the problem isn’t unusual, given how complex vehicles have become, said Ed Kim, director of analysis for industry researcher AutoPacific Inc. in Tustin, California.

“This is literally forensic analysis,” said Kim, who is a former U.S. product planner for Hyundai Motor Co. “Cars contain hundreds of thousands of pieces of machinery, and when there’s a defect it can be pretty minute.”

Needle in Haystack

“In many cases it’s harder than finding a needle in a haystack,” he said.

Toyota’s reputation for reliability has been damaged by record recalls in the past 18 months, largely for problems related to unintended acceleration. The company is under pressure to be as forthcoming as possible with defects, Kim said.

Toyota’s American depositary receipts, each representing two ordinary shares, fell $1.57, or 1.9 percent, to $82.29 at 4:07 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They have dropped 5.2 percent in the past year.

To contact the reporters on this story: Alan Ohnsman in Los Angeles at aohnsman@bloomberg.net; Angela Greiling Keane in Washington at agreilingkea@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bernie Kohn at bkohn2@bloomberg.net; Kae Inoue in Tokyo at kinoue@bloomberg.net

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