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Toyota conducts safety tests on all SUV models

Toyota says it's testing the safety of all its sport-utility models after Consumer Reports warned that the 2010 Lexus GX 460 has possible roll-over problems.
Image: 2010 Toyota RAV4s
Earlier in the month, Toyota said U.S. sales in March surged 41 percent, as unprecedented incentives sent customers flocking back to showrooms.David Zalubowski / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Toyota says it's testing the safety of all its sport-utility models after Consumer Reports warned that the 2010 Lexus GX 460 has possible roll-over problems.

Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday it had not yet decided whether to recall the GX 460, which is sold mainly in North America, but also in the Middle East, Russia and some other nations.

Toyota stopped selling the GX 460 in North America temporarily Tuesday following the Consumer Reports warning. The magazine issued a rare warning not to buy the vehicle because its driving tests revealed a problem that could cause the vehicle to roll over.

The carmaker issued the temporary "stop sale" within hours after the popular consumer magazine raised the handling problem. It reflects Toyota's attempt to respond more quickly to safety concerns after being castigated by the federal government for dragging its feet on recalls to address faulty gas pedals.

Another blow to automaker
The decision to stop selling the SUV adds another stain to Toyota's safety reputation following the recall of more than 8 million cars and trucks worldwide over gas pedals that are too slow to retract or can become stuck under floor mats. Toyota faces a $16.4 million fine from the Transportation Department and has until April 19 to decide whether to contest the penalty.

The GX 460 is not covered by the pedal recalls.

Consumer Reports is closely read by many car buyers before choosing a new car or truck and has raised red flags over Toyotas previously. In January, the magazine pulled its "recommended" rating on eight vehicles recalled by the automaker due to faulty gas pedals.

In this case, Consumer Reports said the Lexus problem occurred during tests on its track. In a standard test, the driver approached a turn unusually fast, then released the accelerator pedal to simulate the response of an alarmed driver. This caused the rear of the vehicle to slide outward.

Under normal circumstances, the electronic stability control should quickly correct the loss of control and keep the SUV on its intended path. But with the GX 460, the stability control took too long to adjust, which could cause a rollover accident if one of the sliding wheels were to strike the curb or another obstacle, said Gabriel Shenhar, Consumer Reports' senior auto test engineer, one of four testers who experienced the problem.

The magazine said it is not aware of any reports of the GX 460 rolling over. It tested two separate vehicles, both of which experienced the problem, but neither rolled over.

Julia Piscitelli, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spokeswoman, said in a statement the agency was testing the GX 460 to ensure it complies with federal safety standards on electronic stability control and to understand how Consumer Reports reached its conclusions.

"It is our belief that ESC should prevent the kind of fishtail event described in CU's tests," Piscitelli said.

The warning label on the model will remain until Toyota addresses the handling issue with the seven-seat SUV.

Tetherow said Toyota is looking at the GX 460's stability control software, among other possible causes.

Templin said in a statement he was "confident that the GX meets our high safety standards" and said Toyota's engineering teams were testing the GX using Consumer Reports' specific parameters.

The GX 460, which starts at about $52,000, is built on the same platform as the Toyota 4Runner. However, Consumer Reports said the problem did not occur during similar tests on the 4Runner. According to Toyota's Web site, both vehicles are about 6 feet tall, but the GX 460 is about 3 inches taller.

Consumer Reports said the last vehicle to receive such a safety warning was the 2001 Mitsubishi Montero Limited, a large SUV. In that case, testers said the wheels lifted off the road during standard avoidance-maneuver tests, which also posed a rollover risk.