Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Consumer Reports Hits Toyota Where it Hurts

Lexus GX 460
Source: Lexus

On the surface, you can look at Consumer Reports warningthe public to stop buying the Lexus GX 460 because it may be at risk of rolling over as a one-time event that should have limited impact.

After all, the Consumer Reports doesn't stop Lexus from continuing to sell the new SUV and with just 5,000 out on the road; this warning is not directed at a major player in the Toyota, Lexus, and Scion line-up.

In my opinion, it's far more significant.

Will it cripple Toyota or Lexus? No. But it's sure not just another warning from an auto industry analyst.

First, the Consumer Reports (CR) warning is rare and significant. It's been nine years since the auto group at CR urged the public to stop buying a model. Conservative and methodical, David Champion and his staff at CR are careful when they weigh in on a vehicle. Largely because their opinions carry so much weight. Historically, CR has not recommended models if it believes they don't quite measure up. But when it warns people to stop buying a particular vehicle, it's not only highly unusual; it's also a huge red flag.

Second, it's the weight of the CR reputation that makes this warning so damaging forToyota .

In an age when anyone with a cell phone camera can start an auto blog the testing at Consumer Reports stands out because it's not just some guy sitting in his boxers in his basement posting his opinion of a particular car. So when the public hears Consumer Reports tell people to stop buying the GX 460, the message goes well beyond those thinking about getting the new Lexus.

The average Joe will pay attention to this warning.

Third, this slows down Toyota's top priority in America: rebuilding its reputation.

There are already a healthy number of people who are wondering if Toyota has been cutting corners when it comes to building safe and reliable vehicles. After months of news about recalls, congressional hearings, and accidents that may be caused by unintended acceleration, many people are asking if Toyota knows what's wrong.

And that's putting it mildly.

Yes, Toyota is correct in pointing out the GX 460 meets all federal safety guidelines and it's smart to come out immediately and say it wants to see the CR data so the automaker can address the issue. And for millions of loyal Toyota owners who have never had a problem with their car, this warning about the GX 460 won't change their feelings. As I've said for months, Toyota has a deep core of loyal owners and that won't change.

That said, there is also a large group of people who are undecided about what their next car, truck or SUV will be. And for those people, this warning from Consumer Reports will re-enforce the perception this company with a sterling reputation for safety has dropped the ball.


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