The Toyota logo (Carlos Osorio / AP)
Washington — Toyota Motor Corp. said it will temporarily stop selling six models — or about 13 percent of vehicles in U.S. showrooms — because seat fabric used in some vehicles with seat warmers doesn’t meet a federal standard on flammability.
Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the Japanese automaker has halted the sale of 36,000 vehicles — the 2013-2014 Avalon, Avalon Hybrid, Camry, Camry Hybrid, Sienna, Tacoma and the 2014 Corolla and Tundra.
The automaker informed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the non-compliance in a formal report Wednesday and will file a petition asking the government to label the issue “inconsequential,” which would allow the vehicles to be sold without repair — and would allow the automaker to avoid a recall.
Analysts say the issue could affect more than 100,000 vehicles in the United States — including those in transit and at factories. Kelley Blue Book said about 26 percent of 2013-2014 Toyota vehicles have heated seats — though the issue only applies to those built in the United States.
If NHTSA doesn’t agree to rule the issue inconsequential, Toyota will be required the recall a significant number of vehicles.
“The timing of this issue, and its impact on Toyota’s most popular models, couldn’t be much worse. 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. Toyota’s stance in halting sales of affected models is prudent, though more information about cars already in consumer hands would be welcome. Should owners of those vehicles stop using the seat heaters? Hopefully more information will become available quickly, as many Toyota customers are likely using those seat heaters right now,” said Karl Brauer, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
Toyota said the issue was discovered during testing by the South Korean government. Toyota had previously tested the seat and determined it met the requirements.
Toyota is in the process of coming up with a fabric that would allow the dealers to repair and then sell the vehicles. NHTSA could take weeks or months before ruling on the petition. No fires or complaints related to the issue have been reported, Hansen said.
The 36,000 figure doesn’t include vehicles that have already been sold or vehicles on the way to dealer showrooms. The Camry is the best-selling car in the U.S.
The issue also affects vehicles in Canada and other markets where they are exported, but Hanson didn’t have a precise tally.