Toyota Canada’s aggressive campaign to reach thousands of Toyota and Lexus owners who so far have not replaced recalled Takata airbags illustrates the massive, costly scale of the long-lived Takata recall, which has affected models from more than two dozen automakers involving millions of vehicles.
The defect, which caused the airbag inflators to explode and spray occupants with sharp pieces of metal, has been blamed for nearly two dozen deaths and hundreds of injuries worldwide.
Transport Canada is not aware of any incidents in Canada involving abnormal deployment of Takata airbags.
About 5.8 million Takata airbags need replacement in Canada, in some cases both the driver and front passenger units, the department said.
Only about 40 per cent of the defective units — roughly 2.3 million airbags — had been replaced as of early August, Transport Canada said.
The recall of affected 2002 to 2012 model-year vehicles began in 2013. Toyota Canada launched its recall campaign in August.
“Canadians have not responded as quickly as we had hoped, so we’re looking to grab their attention,” Toyota Canada Vice-President Stephen Beatty said. “The greater the effectiveness of our campaign, the lower the risk of injury, so we’re working hard to have an impact.”
OUTREACH HAS BEGUN
Toyota’s program includes phone calls, emails and three “increasingly insistent” postcards.
“The company hopes the bright colours, blunt language and powerful images in the postcards will present a rationale that is too compelling to ignore,” Toyota said in a news release.
Owners so far have received the phone calls and the first postcard notification, Michael Bouliane, Toyota Canada’s manager of external affairs corporate communications, told Automotive News Canada.
Notified customers must still book appointments with their dealers to replace the defective airbags, “so we won’t have any results for at least a few weeks,” Bouliane said.
Toyota Canada estimates fewer than half have had defective inflators replaced since the automaker began contacting them.
The recall affects such Toyota models as the Corolla, Matrix, Sequoia, Tundra, RAV4 and Lexus SC.
The effort is complicated by the fact older vehicles might have changed hands, perhaps more than once, which is a barrier to communication.
Manufacturers are good at facilitating recalls of newer vehicles, said David Adams, president of the Global Automakers of Canada, which represents import brands.
“With older vehicles it can often be very difficult to track down who actually owns the vehicle,” he said via email.
Adams said Global Automakers of Canada is working with Transport Canada and the Canada Council of Motor Transport Administrators to obtain more accurate registration data.
“Additionally, we have been exploring the concept of working with the provinces and territories to flag outstanding recalls with consumers at the time of renewing their vehicle registration,” he said.
Toyota stressed that the risk of defective airbag inflators going off increases with time.
Among recalled models, Transport Canada flags 10, eight of them Honda or Acura products, as having airbags with a higher risk of failure. The other two — 2006 Ford Ranger and Mazda B-series compact pickups — should not be driven at all, the automakers warn.
Ford is offering cash incentives to its U.S. dealers to find and repair the remaining Rangers.
Nothing similar is offered in Canada, said Elizabeth Weigandt, spokeswoman at Ford in Dearborn, Mich. About 3,015 Canadian Rangers were affected by the recall.
“We’ve accounted for and/or repaired more than half of them,” Weigandt said.
Ford Canada is using “numerous outreach methods,” including multiple mailings, automated phone messages and dealer messages, to reach the rest, using data from vehicle registration, Ford customer and dealer records.