The RAV4 V6 launched only a fortnight ago to join the four-cylinder model launched in early 2006. A problem relating to the engine follows shortly after Toyota Australia's Aurion TRD resumed sales in October after an investigation into an engine failure.
Toyota Australia spokesperson Mike Breen says the RAV4's 3.5-litre V6, which is shared with the Aurion, Kluger, and Tarago, is not operating "as smoothly as would be expected", and there appears to be an issue with the engine's electronic managment control system.
The problem was detected in a couple of company demonstration models and the decision was made to stop customer deliveries as a "precautionary measure". "There has been no customer feedback," says Breen.
Breen says the problem does not constitute a recall. "It is not safety related so it isn't a product recall."
The latest problem has come only days after one of the Japanese group's directors admitted the company's response to vehicle quality problems "was not perfect".
Toyota, which has grown to be the world's largest carmaker mainly on the strength of product reliability, issued the freeze order on the RAV4 V6 following concerns about the car's drivability. Details of the exact fault were not available last night, but a Toyota spokesman said it was not a safety-related issue.
It is the latest in a string of quality-related problems to hit the Japanese giant this year, both in Australia and overseas, and reflects the problems that come with growing rapidly year after year.
Toyota directors were so concerned about deterioration in quality levels two years ago they formed the Customer First committee to address the problem, executive vice-president Mitsuo Kinoshita, told The Age last week in Tokyo.
"Quality is our first priority. Unfortunately, two years ago, vehicle [problems] increased so much at that time we decided to establish the CF committee," said Kinoshita. "We have been doing that for two years and, as a result, the quality is getting better and the recall level is comparatively decreasing."
Apart from the pressures of having to rapidly increase production, Mr Kinoshita said a major source of problems was the increasing use of electronics and, in particular, integrated circuit boards, in cars.
Toyota sales have been growing by between 500,000 and 800,000 vehicles a year, which means the company has had to build at least two factories a year to keep pace.
"Finding skilled people is one of the biggest challenges for us," Mr Kinoshita said. "We now employ 300,000 people around the world. That has doubled in the last 10 years."
Mr Kinoshita said Toyota had been forced to create its own "university", the Toyota Institute, where managers from around the world are taught "The Toyota Way" of building cars.
In addition, the group has established its Global Production Centre, where production group leaders learn how to teach their team members.
"We took many countermeasures to produce more skilled workers. Of course, it is not perfect..."
The freeze on RAV4 V6 sales comes only a month after Toyota Australia was forced to halt sales of its locally developed supercharged V6 Aurion TRD sedan after the engine in one of the early models failed. That was traced to some over-enthusiastic driving by a dealer.
Earlier in the year, Toyota was forced to halt sales of the newly released Corolla range after it was found an incorrectly fitted stay allowed the steering columns to slump to their lowest position.
Toyota's usually rock-solid reputation for reliablity has also had a set-back in the United States after an influential consumer magazine said the company's cars could no longer be automatically recommended.