After persistent consumer complaints about its brakes, Toyota Kirloskar Motor Ltd (TKML) has begun replacing brake kits in its bestselling sports utility vehicle (SUV), Fortuner.
However, not wanting to add India to the growing list of countries where it has recalled cars this year, Toyota is replacing brake kits only on "case-by-case basis" and not approaching customers to get them changed.
Cars sold from February 2010 have new brakes. The brakes in those manufactured earlier are being changed free of cost. At least 180 customers who had bought the car have complained of the brakes.
"There is no case for a recall of the Fortuner as the brakes are perfectly fine," said Sandeep Singh, Toyota's deputy managing director, marketing. "We did receive queries from consumers regarding the brakes and merely re-tuned them to give a better feeling of braking to the driver. The quality of braking and the distance it takes for the car to stop remains the same. There is no compromise on the safety of the consumers."
Toyota claims that such vehicle assessments are integral to the business and happens with every manufacturer. No number was given on the financial implication of the change in brakes but Singh said the company keeps a budget for warranty-related expenses that covers all costs.
In merely eight months, Fortuner has emerged as the country's bestselling SUV with over 8,000 units on the road — more than all other comparable SUVs put together.
"Within a month of its launch (August 2009), we decided to educate consumers on what to expect from a 2-tonne vehicle," Singh said. "Much of the problem is not technical but due to the mindset of customers. The car is a big success and had there been any major issue, customers would not be buying it like this."
Yet getting the company to fix the braking problem free of cost is a victory for consumers in a country where there are no specified laws on "recalls" - the process in which a company writes to consumers to get the cars they've bought repaired.
"I bought the car in December and felt the braking was inadequate from the first day itself," said Delhi-based Yatin Jain. "I decided to take action when I bumped into a biker this January after the car refused to stop in time despite applying the brakes.. After persistent haggling with the dealer (Galaxy Toyota) they fitted new brakes in February."
Globally, Toyota is in the middle of its largest-ever recall exercise where over 8 million cars — more than five times India's annual car sales — including brands like Corolla, Camry, its hybrid Prius and even the luxury SUV Lexus, have been recalled for problems related to accelerator pedals and brakes.