Strictly a U.S. problem
Toyota spokesman Yuta Kaga in Tokyo said today the floor mats subject to the recall are used only in vehicles sold in the United States.
The company is also checking whether the problem originates in the floor mats or the process of placing them in the vehicles, he said, without naming the floor mat supplier.
Toyota and U.S. safety regulators warned owners to remove all driver-side floor mats from eight Toyota and Lexus models manufactured in the last six years as an immediate safety precaution.
Toyota’s largest previous U.S. recall was in 2005 for a problem with steering rods, covering about 900,000 vehicles.
The pending recall will be equivalent to about double Toyota’s annual sales in the U.S. market.
Toyota’s sweeping recall stems from a safety issue that has been under review for the past several years.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration closed an investigation into floor mats in Toyota vehicles that began in 2007 and resulted in a recall of more than 50,000 cars.
That investigation, which focused on the Lexus ES350, concluded that grooves in the mats could trap the accelerator if the mat was not secured with retaining hooks.
Federal investigators also found many owners were not aware that it takes three seconds to turn off the electronic ignition button that comes standard on that model and the Prius.
Many owners also complained that it was not obvious how to put a runaway vehicle in neutral because of the design of the Toyota gear panel.
Broader issues to investigate?
One Toyota owner petitioned NHTSA in April of this year to begin a wider investigation, saying that anecdotal reports of unintended acceleration suggested the problem could not be explained only by the floor mat problem.
NHTSA has not ruled on that request. One auto safety advocate said he also suspected that reported problems could have causes other than slipping floor mats.
"Their response is that this is all floor mats," Sean Kane, president of Safety Research & Strategies, a consulting and advocacy firm based in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, said of Toyota.
"That’s not terribly surprising. They would like it to be floor mats because that is an easily identifiable mechanical issue."
Toyota said it would issue specific recall notices as soon as it had a plan to address each of the models affected.