The equivalent of one in five vehicles on American roads has been called back for repairs in a year that saw more recalls for older-model cars than ever before, said a New York Times report.
In 2014, some 60 million vehicles have been recalled, nearly doubling the previous record of 30 million in 2004; with around 700 recalls, more models that are five years or older have been recalled in the United States than in any previous year.
General Motors' ignition switch disaster served as the catalyst for the year of recalls as the automaker worked to repair 2.59 million small cars with faulty switches that have been related to at least 42 deaths.
"What you're seeing is the makeover of the entire industry," Bob Carter, Toyota's senior sales executive in the U.S., told the Times.
Earlier this year, Toyota paid the biggest-ever fine for an automaker in the U.S., settling a criminal investigation for unintended acceleration to the tune of $1.2 billion. The issue affected 8.1 million vehicles, and the acceleration recalls have been related to five deaths.
The auto industry is at a crucial moment when it comes to safety, and the next step is unclear.
One issue is that "a recall is a recall" regardless of how dangerous the problem is, the Detroit News noted in a report this week. A recall could mean that a safety label on the car has misinformation, or it could signify a life-or-death issue like GM's fatal ignition switches.
"There needs to be a sophistication of how serious is the recall? And that has to be really clear to a customer. I think the industry is beginning to do that," Mark Reuss, GM's head of global product development, purchasing and supply chain, told the Detroit News.
Automakers' too-slow response to safety issues is another problem. Under fire for overlooking the GM debacle and other safety crises, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has increased pressure on carmakers to speed up recalls.
The agency recently installed Mark Rosekind as its chief after being without a permanent leader for almost a year. In Senate hearings during the nomination process, Rosekind urged faster recalls and higher fines for automakers.