UPDATE 2-Toyota tells U.S. agency seat issue could lead to recall

Thu Jan 30, 2014 7:50pm EST
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By Ben Klayman

DETROIT Jan 30 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp has alerted U.S. safety officials that seat material in several vehicles, including its top-selling Camry sedan, fails to meet fire retardation standards and could result in a recall.

Toyota said on Thursday it had stopped selling eight recent-model vehicles equipped with seat heaters in North America following an advisory about fire risk from South Korean safety officials. The world largest automaker said it did not believe a recall was necessary, however.

South Korea applies the same fire retardation standards as those used in the United States, where the cars were built starting in August 2012. Some of the U.S.-built models were exported to South Korea.

The Japanese automaker said there have been no reports of fires or injuries related to the problem. The safety standard requires a certain burn rate as a flame moves across the seat heater's cloth pad.

Toyota said the number of affected vehicles at its U.S. dealers totaled about 36,000, or about 13 percent of dealer inventory, but that does not include vehicles in transit to dealers or those already sold to consumers. In the United States alone, the number of affected vehicles could top 111,000, according to research firm Kelley Blue Book.

From the hit it took to its quality reputation during past recalls related to unintended acceleration, Toyota has learned that it cannot delay action on these issues, Kelley Blue Book analysts said. But the decision to stop selling high-volume models with seat heaters will be costly.

"The timing of this issue, and its impact on Toyota's most popular models, couldn't be much worse," Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer said. "Given that much of the U.S. is currently in the grips of a record cold snap, there's sure to be high demand for models with seat heaters.   Continued...