In March 2020, the news broke that the Toyota Automobile Company, the parent company of the Toyota and Lexus brand of vehicles, was recalling vehicles.
As of March 4, 2020, the number of vehicles recalled had climbed to a whopping 3.2million vehicles, involving the different brands of the Toyota and Lexus models.
An issue was a defect of the fuel pump, which could cause the affected vehicles to stall, which in turn could lead to a crash, especially if the vehicle is been driven at high speed. The models affected ranged from the 2013 to 2019 models of the different brands –Camry, Corolla, Avalon, Sienna minivans, Land cruiser SUVs, Sequoia SUVs, Tacoma, and Tundra Trucks, 4runner SUVs, Lexus 350 sedan, as well as other Lexus models. Earlier in January, there had been similar recall issues affecting Toyota and Lexus vehicles with electronic control units that could affect the deployment of airbags in the vehicles. This led to the recall of 2.9 million vehicles in certain sedan models, in an attempt to address the problem. Hard on its heels, and with scant evidence that the deployment of the airbags issue had been satisfactorily resolved, arose the fuel pump defect! Of the 3.2million vehicles affected worldwide according to Bloomberg.com, 1.8million are in the United States. More than 600,000 vehicles have been recalled from Canada, the rest from other parts of the world.
In Nigeria today, Toyota has a large share of the automobile market. The Sienna minivan is very popular for the luxury end transport market. Similarly, the Tundra and Tacoma trucks are rugged vehicles that do very well on our pothole-ridden roads, as well as on dirt roads. In addition, the SUV ranges are very popular as well as the sedans. Part of the attraction lies in its affordable parts and easy maintenance, making the brand an all-time favourite for different purposes. One could certainly say with confidence that the Toyota and Honda brands are the most popular brands currently in Nigeria, with Toyota having a slight edge.
In view of its continued popularity in Nigeria, it is extremely worrisome that the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC), has not seen fit to sensitize the public with information relating to the recall and the necessary steps to adopt in relation to this.
In the United States, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has published a website where owners and users of the affected vehicle brands can log into to check if their vehicles are candidates for recall. This is protection for the citizen at its best, in such circumstances. Unfortunately, we do not have anything in place to address the situation in Nigeria despite the fact that Toyota has subsidiaries in the country, as well as several distributors!
Under section 133 of the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Council Act, 2018, the Commission has powers of safety monitoring of products imported into, or in use in the country. It also has powers to recall any product that it’s quality or safety protocols are not of the requisite standards. Unfortunately, we are yet to see the Commission exercise these powers for the benefit of the public, in this instance, and quite a few others! Considering the popularity of the Toyota brands in the country, one would have expected the Commission to be in the forefront of disseminating relevant information on the recall and making sure Nigerian Consumers are part of the picture since indeed they represent a considerable slice of the market. This recall has been on since January 2020. We hereby call on the good offices of the Commission to look into the matter and sensitize the public on what is happening with the Toyota and Lexus brands. Also important is the necessity of setting up a channel to ensure that Toyota vehicles in the country are not left out of the recall, so that affected vehicles from the 2013-2019 models can be recalled and changed. At the moment, according to Bloomberg.com, there is no solution yet for the defective fuel pumps. However, since the defect has been noted, the search for a remedy cannot lag far behind. We, in Nigerian need to be accommodated in the remedy at no extra cost, in order to safeguard lives and property. It will also prevent defect induced crashes on our highways. That would be a major plus and a huge step forward.
Ijenma Okwu is a legal practitioner with extensive career / work experience spanning several decades. She is an alumnus of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and Cambridge University, England. She is particularly concerned about Consumer education and protection, and currently lectures at Baze University, Abuja.