Toyota recall: Chinese see lessons for own firms with tainted products

The Toyota recall has sparked debate among consumers in China – which has taken hits over tainted milk products and toys with lead paint – about how companies should respond. Is Japan's top carmaker putting Chinese firms to shame?

Toyota Motor Corp/Reuters
Employees at Toyota Motor Corp's Tsutsumi plant work at a Prius hybrid assembly line in Toyota, central Japan in this undated handout photo.

For once, the tables are turned.

Toyota’s recall of 75,000 vehicles from Chinese drivers is a reversal of the normal pattern of unsafe Chinese goods being withdrawn from foreign markets.

And the move, part of a worldwide recall of more than 8 million Toyota cars that might suffer from a jammed gas pedal, has drawn praise from some Chinese Web users who compare the Japanese company’s decision with normal Chinese practice.

“How many Chinese companies dare to recall their products?????” asked one.

In recent days, Chinese government quality controllers have found powdered milk on sale contaminated with the same melamine that sickened hundreds of thousands of children last year. Companies forced to withdraw their milk from the market in the wake of the scandal appear simply to have repackaged the poisonous product and put it back on the shelves. They had been ordered to destroy it.

There is no law in China governing product recall, though legislation has been drafted and is currently under study, officials say.

Some comments on Chinese websites were less complimentary to the Japanese auto giant. “Toyota recalled over 5 million vehicles in the world, but only 70,000 in China,” pointed out one. “We firmly oppose Toyota’s discrimination against Chinese consumers.”

Toyota officials in China have not gone to the lengths that United States sales chief Jim Lentz has explored in efforts to explain and apologize for the faulty gas pedal: He has made a YouTube video, appeared on NBC’s "Today Show," and put full-page ads in 20 major US papers.

Here, two vice managers – one Japanese, one Chinese – gave a press conference a week after the US recall was announced to say that all 75,000 RAV4s, a compact SUV, that have been made and sold in China would be recalled, starting at the end of this month.

They said that there had been no complaints in China about the sort of problem US drivers have reported.

Manufactured by a Toyota joint venture in the port city of Tianjin, the cars are all fitted with gas pedals made by CTS, the firm that manufactured the potentially faulty parts found in eight Toyota models.

Eighty thousand is not a lot of cars in China, which was the biggest vehicle market in the world last year with sales of more than 10 million passenger cars. The RAV4 is an expensive car by Chinese standards, costing up to $38,000 depending on the model – nearly twice the US price.

Toyota has been plagued by quality problems in China recently, as elsewhere. Last year, the company recalled nearly 1 million vehicles in six separate incidents here, according to the company’s website.

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