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Toyota beats rivals on one measure of complaints

February 10, 2010 | 11:59 am

There’s an interesting report from auto information and pricing company Edmunds.com that looks at the number of complaints drivers have filed about car-makers with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and compares that number to the number of autos the companies have on the road.

Getprev One conclusion is that Toyota Motor Corp. looks pretty good by that measure. According to the database, which Edmunds noted consists of complaints from individuals and is not checked for accuracy by NHTSA, Toyota was the subject of 9.1% of the complaints from 2001 through the start of February. During that period, Toyota had a 13.5% slice of the U.S. auto market.

The period includes the last several months, a time in which Toyota has issued 10 million recalls worldwide for problems related to unintended acceleration and braking, with about 2 million vehicles subject to more than one recall.

By comparison, Land Rover looked terrible. It had 0.6% of the complaints compared to only 0.1% market share from 2001 through 2010.

“Right now it doesn’t appear that the complaint level in relation to the number of Toyotas on the road is more than any other manufacturer. There is no smoking gun,” said Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive of Santa Monica-based Edmunds.com.

He said the data provides an important “perspective” to the Toyota recalls. All automakers are going to have complaints and recalls. What matters is how seriously they take the complaints and how they conduct the recalls.

“As Toyota’s experience in recent months clearly demonstrates, it is no longer an option for car companies to dismiss consumer complaints, even if the event is difficult to replicate or diagnose,” he said.

But Anwyl also expressed some empathy for automakers trying to figure out what’s going on.

"As a responsible car company, what can you do if you can’t replicate the issue someone is complaining about? That is the conundrum facing every car company,” Anwyl said.

Moreover, the data in the complaints is often “confusing and contradictory because consumers are diagnosing their own issues and they are categorizing them and describing them in different ways,” Anwyl said.

For example, he said, one complaint indicated that 99 people had died in one vehicle as a result of an accident.  And roughly 10% of the complaints that Edmunds looked at appeared to be duplicates. 

If nothing else, the analysis by Edmunds.com gives shoppers one indicator of long-term quality by manufacturers because it includes so many years of data.

Besides Toyota, the major automakers that had a smaller percentage of complaints than their sale market share for the period examined included Honda, Nissan, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Hyundai

Those that had more than would be expected based on their share of the market included General Motors, Ford, Chrysler (the worst-faring of the Detroit automakers), Mazda and Volvo. Click here  for the full chart.

Meanwhile, auto information supplier Kelley Blue Book said it has found that Toyota’s recalls have eaten into its once-vaunted market perception.

Kelley said its research indicates that 27% of the shoppers who were considering purchasing a Toyota prior to the recall now say they no longer are looking at the brand for their next purchase.

This trend extends to Toyota’s other nameplates. The survey reports that 28% of shoppers looking at a Scion and 23% of those considering a Lexus prior to the Toyota recalls now say they no longer are considering those brands. 

About half of the car shoppers who have defected from Toyota say they are not sure if they will consider the brand again, even once Toyota’s problems are resolved, according to Kelley.

Many of these shoppers say they are looking at brands they were not considering prior to the Toyota recalls. Ford gets the biggest boost in interest (8%), followed by Chevrolet (7%), Hyundai (5%) and Honda  (5%). 

-- Jerry Hirsch

Twitter.com/LATimesJerry 

Photo: Line technician Bobby Rewoldt II installs a shim into a CTS accelerator pedal for a 2010 Toyota Corolla at McInerney Toyota in Clinton Township, Mich. Credit:  Paul Sancya / Associated Press

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