updated 12/1/2005 6:17:13 PM ET 2005-12-01T23:17:13

Toyota Motor Corp., which is challenging General Motors Co. to become the world's largest automaker, saw its number of recalled vehicles in the United States double in 2005, according to government records.

Overall, the number of autos ordered to be returned to dealerships for repairs was down considerably in 2005 — totaling about 16.6 million through mid-November, compared with a record 30.8 million the previous year.

Vehicles have been recalled in larger quantities since the mid-1990s and have fluctuated from year to year. Automakers and analysts say that with more automobiles using shared parts or platforms, recall data does not always reflect a vehicle's quality or safety attributes.

In Toyota's case, analysts said it could be a function of the company's rapid development.

"It's really a factor of the rate of expansion, the speed at which they're growing right now," said Erich Merkle, director of forecasting for IRN Inc., a Grand Rapids, Mich.-based automotive consulting firm. Anytime an auto manufacturer opens new plants and ramps up production, "you open yourself up for some quality issues."

Ford Motor Co. is on pace to have the most recalled vehicles of any automaker this year, with more than 6 million, fueled by the September recall of 3.8 million trucks and sport utility vehicles. Recalls for DaimlerChrysler AG and General Motors have declined this year.

Records compiled by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show Toyota with 2.2 million vehicles recalled through Nov. 17, compared with 1.1 million in 2004. Toyota said its records show 2.4 million vehicles recalled this year.

The recalls are the most for Toyota in the U.S. in a single year. The Japanese automaker recalled about 210,000 vehicles in the U.S. in 2003.

Toyota, frequently lauded in customer satisfaction and dependability surveys, is closing in on replacing GM as the world's biggest automaker. Recent data by CSM Worldwide, an automotive forecasting firm, estimated GM's global production at 8.65 million vehicles in 2005, followed by Toyota at 8.44 million.

Toyota is scheduled to open a new pickup truck plant in San Antonio next year that will produce an additional 200,000 vehicles that could close the gap or help them surpass GM.

Martha Voss, a Toyota spokeswoman, said that with the increased volume, "it would be normal to expect that recalls would increase." She noted the federal TREAD Act, enacted in 2000 in response to the recall of more than 10 million Firestone tires, redefined what constitutes a recall, making minor issues part of the reported data.

She noted that one of the recalls dealt with older pickups and SUVs that involved a rod linking the steering wheel and the tires, and did not reflect current production. Toyota also recalled about 75,000 models of its popular Prius gas-electric hybrid from the 2004-05 model years because of stalling engines.

Ford saw its recalled vehicles grow by about 1 million over the 5 million of 2004. The bulk of the recalls came when Ford called back 3.8 million trucks and SUVs because of a cruise control switch suspected of causing engine fires. It was the fifth-largest recall in history.

Kristen Kinley, a Ford spokeswoman, said that in some cases, the automaker issued a recall notice based on early testing before the vehicles were shipped to dealerships.

"Automakers are becoming more aggressive about doing recalls and doing them much quicker," Kinley said.

Recalls have become more common in the aftermath of the TREAD Act and have also been driven by fear of litigation and the launching of new vehicles, said Chance Parker of J.D. Power and Associates, which tracks vehicle quality and dependability.

Parker said his firm has not seen a direct link between increased recalls and reduced vehicle quality by a manufacturer.

"In some cases, if a recall is handled really well, we've had some customers becoming more satisfied because of the way the recall was handled," Parker said.

GM has recalled about 4 million vehicles this year, down from 10.7 million in 2004. Daimler-Chrysler saw a major drop — about 750,000 vehicles in 2005 compared with 5.8 million in 2004.

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