Toyota Recall: Toyota considering Prius recall in Japan, U.S. over brake problems
NAGOYA February 5, 2010; Japan Today reported that Toyota Motor Corp is considering a recall in Japan and the United States over complaints of brake problems with the Prius hybrid, sources close to the matter said Friday.
The world’s biggest automaker had already been planning to carry out voluntary repairs for free. But the sources said Toyota is now in talks with both Japanese and U.S. regulators on whether to go one step further with a mandatory recall amid uncertainty spreading among consumers.
Subject to the possible recall is Toyota’s new Prius, which was rolled out in May and has remained a top-seller in January for eight consecutive months in Japan.
The automaker has sold about 170,000 units in Japan and about 100,000 units in the United States.
Complaints have flooded into Toyota about brakes temporarily not working on bumpy or slippery roads. The company plans to fix the problem by improving the software for the antilock brake system, which electronically prevents vehicles from slipping.
Toyota officials have said it has already changed the software for the newly produced models since late January and these will not be subject to the recall.
Meanwhile, a company spokesman said the automaker is cooperating fully with a U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration probe into brake problems, but said it’s too soon to talk about a recall.
On Thursday, the safety agency said it opened an investigation into the Prius, saying it had received 124 reports from consumers about its brakes, including four reports of crashes. The government is investigating reports that antilock brakes can fail momentarily on some 2010 models in slippery conditions or on rough roads.
The company says it made a change in the 2010 braking system last month to correct cars in production. The company has not made a decision about cars on the road.
Toyota USA spokesman Brian Lyons said Toyota is checking other hybrid models in its lineup to see if they have the same braking system as the 2010 model, but so far he is not aware of any other models being involved.
“As part of our normal problem-solving process, we would look at similar technology in similar vehicles,” he said.
The U.S. investigation, while preliminary, represents another setback for Toyota, which has been battered with two major recalls in the United States covering millions of vehicles. Those involve gas pedals that can get trapped under floor mats or become stuck on their own and fail to return to the idle position. The safety probes have challenged Toyota’s long-standing reputation for building safe, quality vehicles.
The Prius was not part of the recall spanning the U.S., Europe and China over sticking gas pedals in eight top-selling models including the Camry. That recall involved 2.3 million cars in the U.S. alone.
NHTSA said investigators have talked to consumers and conducted pre-investigatory field work. The preliminary evaluation involves about 37,000 vehicles in the United States.
“Safety is our top priority,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. NHTSA said LaHood spoke with Toyota president Akio Toyoda late Wednesday and was assured by the executive that Toyota was taking the safety concerns seriously.
Toyota said in a statement it would fully cooperate with NHTSA’s investigation.
The U.S. investigation came after the Japanese government ordered Toyota to investigate brake problems in the Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid.
The new version of the gas-electric Prius hybrid went on sale in the U.S. and Japan in May 2009.
Paul Nolasco, a company spokesman in Japan, said the time lag for brakes kicking in felt by drivers stem from the two systems in a gas-electric hybrid—the gas-engine and the electric motor.
When the car moves on a bumpy or slippery surface, a driver can feel a pause in the braking when the vehicle switches between the traditional hydraulic brakes and the electronically operated braking system, he said. The brakes work if the driver keeps pushing the pedal, he said.
Toyota acknowledged the brake problem while reporting a $1.7 billion profit for its October-December quarter.
NHTSA said it opens 100 investigations every year and there are currently 40 open defect investigations, three of which involve Toyota. NHTSA said its defect and compliance investigations have resulted in 524 recalls involving 23.5 million vehicles during the past three years.
Toyota senior managing director Takahiko Ijichi defended the automaker’s quality standards.
“We have not sacrificed the quality for the sake of saving costs,” he said. “Quality is our lifeline. We want our customers to feel safe and regain their trust as soon as possible.”
Toyota for the first time gave an estimate of the costs of the global gas-pedal recall. The $2 billion total represents $1.1 billion for repairs and $770 million to $880 million in lost sales.
Toyota is expecting to lose 100,000 in vehicle sales because of the recall fallout—80,000 of them in North America.