Yamaha Suspends Rhino Sales For Vehicle Improvements

Yamaha Motor Corp. U.S.A. is offering a free repair program to address what the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission calls “safety issues” regarding the Rhino 450 and 660 off-highway recreational vehicles. Yamaha has also agreed to voluntarily suspend sale of these models immediately until repaired.

Nancy Nord, acting chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, calls Yamaha’s decision “a critical step toward increasing family safety.”

“I personally have been so concerned about the number of deaths and injuries associated with these vehicles that I directed staff to step up their investigative efforts,” Nord says. “I am very pleased that the agency and Yamaha have identified safety repairs and I strongly encourage owners of the Rhino 450 and 660 models to get these repairs as soon as possible.”

More than 200 Yamaha Rhino lawsuits are known to have been filed in various state and federal courts throughout the United States. The CPSC says it has investigated more than 50 incidents involving 46 driver and passenger deaths in these two Rhino models. More than two-thirds of the cases involved rollovers and many involved unbelted occupants. The CPSC says many of the rollover-related deaths and hundreds of reported injuries appear to involve turns at relatively low speeds and on level terrain.

About 120,000 units of the 450 and 660 model Rhinos have been distributed nationwide since their introduction in 2003. Yamaha began offering doors for the two smaller units in 2007, a few months before introduction of the Rhino 700 that came equipped with doors from the factory.

Yamaha’s repair includes the installation of a spacer on the rear wheels as well as the removal of the rear anti-sway bar to help reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling, and continued installation of half doors and additional passenger handholds where these features have not been previously installed to help keep occupants’ arms and legs inside the vehicle during a rollover and reduce injuries.

Owners of the affected Rhinos are asked to stop using vehicles and call a dealer to schedule an appointment to have repairs made once they are available and to take advantage of a free helmet offer.

The OEM says it stands behind the Rhino and is proud of the vehicle’s safety record and safety features. Nevertheless, the company says it has worked with the CPSC to examine the product and develop modifications that may help reduce the chance of rollover and improve vehicle handling in certain situations.

“Yamaha has had ongoing discussions with CPSC since 2006 to share information about the Rhino, including new product developments and safety features, as well as Yamaha’s efforts to promote safe and responsible use of the vehicles,” the company said via a prepared statement, adding: “Yamaha reminds all Rhino owners, as with any motorized vehicle, that safety features are no substitute for driving responsibly.”

“The CPSC really focused on a small group of customers who had reported incidents with the 450 and 660,” Van Holmes, Public Relations Manager, ATV & SxS Department, Yamaha Motor Corp. USA, told Dealernews. “More than 99 percent of our customers are operating these vehicles free of any incidents. And, the incidents that were looked into typically included some sort of use outside of our recommended use of the vehicle.”

Holmes says Yamaha plans to compensate dealers for the time used in making the updates. The doors are currently in stock with Yamaha. As for the spacers, they have yet to be sent to dealers from Yamaha. “Delivery is to be determined,” Holmes says. “We’re working on that as we speak – we’re working diligently to get those to them as soon as possible.”

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) in February ordered that all Yamaha Rhino rollover lawsuits in the federal system be consolidated before a single judge. The cases are being assigned to a judge in Kentucky, according to the JPML Transfer Order dated Feb. 13. The action ensures that all pretrial actions in federal Rhino cases will be heard in one court.

While the cases are consolidated for purposes of pretrial litigation and discovery, the lawsuits remain individual claims and they will be sent back to the courts where filed for trial if they do not otherwise resolve. Also, the Federal action does not affect the status of Yamaha Rhino rollover cases filed in state courts around the U.S.

At a preliminary status conference held on March 24, 16 attorneys appeared on behalf of plaintiffs who have filed Rhino lawsuits and 10 attorneys appeared on behalf of Yamaha and the other defendants that have been named in the cases.

Under an MDL, the attorneys appointed to leadership roles generally represent the interests of all plaintiffs at pretrial proceedings, respond to court inquiries, handle motions applicable to all cases, examine witnesses during depositions and negotiate any potential settlements that may apply across all cases.

U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman ordered the defendants’ and plaintiffs’ lead counsel to file proposed confidentiality and case management orders by April 14.

- Submitted by Guido Ebert