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Explained: Why Toyota fears wheels may come off its flagship electric vehicle

According to a spokesperson for Toyota, the hub bolts on the wheels of the concerned bZ4X battery EVs run the risk of loosening “to the point where the wheel can detach from the vehicle” after “low-mileage use”.

Despite being a long-standing giant in the automotive game, Toyota is a rather late entrant in the EV arena.

Less than three months after it launched the bZ4X SUV globally, Toyota Motor Corporation has issued a recall of nearly 2,700 units of the new electric vehicle (EV) following concerns that its “loose wheels” may fall off. The Japanese auto manufacturer, in a recall notice issued to owners of the bZ4X on Friday through various channels, said the action is for all vehicles “in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific”.

What is the issue?

According to a spokesperson for Toyota, the hub bolts on the wheels of the concerned bZ4X battery EVs run the risk of loosening “to the point where the wheel can detach from the vehicle” after “low-mileage use”. In case one of the wheels detaches from the car while driving, it could result in the vehicle veering off, increasing the risk of a crash.

Even though the cause of the defect is “still under investigation”, Toyota said it had alerted Japanese safety regulators about the issue. “No one should drive these vehicles until the remedy is performed,” the company added. The recalled vehicles include nearly 2,200 in Europe, about 270 in North America, over 110 in Japan and 60-odd in the rest of Asia, Toyota said Thursday. All these vehicles were produced between March and June.

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Moreover, nearly 400 units of the Solterra all-electric SUV by Subaru, developed in collaboration with Toyota, have been recalled for the same issue.

How will it affect Toyota?

Despite being a long-standing giant in the automotive game, Toyota is a rather late entrant in the EV arena. Announced in early 2021, the bZ4X – the first in Toyota’s ‘bZ’ (beyond Zero) series of battery EVs – is touted to be its flagship EV offering in the crossover SUV segment. Starting at $42,000 (over Rs 32,86,000) and available in limited markets, the bZ4X has not really set the roads on fire. Following its launch in Japan earlier this year, Toyota had said the model was only available on lease as concerns remained over maintenance, residual battery performance and residual value.

According to experts, the bZ4X recall comes early in its lifecycle, and as the defect pertains to a mechanical component rather than the vehicle’s electric drivetrain, Toyota is likely to resolve it quickly. However, the fact that the recall affected its first mass-market electric car may pull Toyota back a bit in the global EV race – a competition where Tesla has a significant lead.

The US EV maker made a name for itself back in 2012 with the market-topping Model S sedan. Tesla cemented its status in 2015 with the launch of the mid-size crossover SUV Model X, now among the world’s best plug-in cars.

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Adding to Toyota’s roadblocks is the global semiconductor shortage, which forced it to significantly curtail production across models and markets.

Road ahead for Toyota

Vehicle recall is not a new trend: in one of the biggest recalls in recent times, Toyota and other automakers had flagged several millions of car models manufactured since 2013 due to faulty airbags manufactured by Japan’s Takata Corporation, which subsequently went bankrupt. The bZ4X recall may turn out to be just a minor setback for Toyota, given its large plans across the globe.

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In India, Toyota and Suzuki Motor Corporation signed a memorandum of understanding in 2017, to bring together their strengths and promote mutual supply of vehicles. On Friday, the Japanese majors announced that work will start on production of a new SUV developed by Suzuki at Toyota Kirloskar Motor – Toyota’s India arm – in August. The companies plan to export the upcoming model to markets beyond India, including Africa.

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First published on: 26-06-2022 at 10:16:29 am
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