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Toyota Recalling Prius in Japan for Brakes

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TOKYO February 9, 2010; Yuri Kageyama writing for the AP reported that Toyota is recalling nearly 200,000 of its signature Prius green cars in Japan for braking problems, the latest in a string of embarrassing safety problems at the world's largest automaker.

Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda will hold a news conference at the automaker's Tokyo office later Tuesday to outline details of the braking problem, including plans for a possible recall in the U.S., a company official told The Associated Press.

The number of Prius gas-electric hybrids being recalled would swell to about 300,000 if there is a recall in the U.S. and other regions.

The braking problem for the third-generation remodeled Prius is the latest safety woe for Toyota, which is already trying to fix problems in millions of vehicles recalled for other defects, including a sticky gas pedal.

Mike Michels, a spokesman at Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., would not confirm a U.S. recall, but said the timing of any U.S. recall announcement "would be the same as in Japan." A U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman said Toyota had not informed it of any recall.

Toyota officials went to Japan's Transport Ministry to formally notify officials the company is recalling the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid -- the world's top-selling hybrid car -- and two other hybrid models.

In total, the recall numbers over 223,000 hybrid cars. Toyota will recall nearly 200,000 Prius cars sold in Japan from April last year through Monday, according to papers the automaker filed with the ministry.

A fix requires new software that oversees the controls of the antilock brakes and will resolve a delay in the braking, the papers say.

Toyota had earlier said a fix was already in cars in production starting late last month, but the recall includes those cars as well.

The two other hybrids being recalled are the Lexus HS250h sedan, sold in the U.S. and Japan, and the Sai, which is sold only in Japan. The new software for those models is still being worked out, Toyota said.

Toyota's plug-in hybrid is also being recalled in Japan -- a largely experimental model for rental and government use, with 159 sold.

U.S. safety officials have launched an investigation into problems with the brakes.

The recall in Japan will cover about 170,000 of the 2010 model Prius, which went on sale in May. The automaker has fixed the programming glitch in Prius models that went on sale since last month, but had done nothing yet on the cars sold before then, according to Toyota.

There have been nearly 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S. of drivers experiencing a short delay before the brakes kick in -- a problem that can be fixed with a software programming change. The delay doesn't indicate a brake failure.

The problem is suspected in four crashes resulting in two minor injuries, according to data gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is investigating the matter. Toyota says it's cooperating with NHTSA's investigation.

Toyota is in the midst of repairing 5 million vehicles recalled in the U.S. because of problems with floor mats, which can trap gas pedals. It also has recalled 2.3 million vehicles because of concerns that their gas pedals are slow to return to the idle position. The 2010 Prius wasn't part of either recall.

Problems with hybrid braking systems haven't been limited to Toyota. Ford Motor Co. said last week it plans to fix 17,600 Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion gas-electric hybrids because of a software problem that can give drivers the impression that the brakes have failed. The automaker says the problem occurs in transition between two braking systems and at no time are drivers without brakes.

The Prius is Toyota's top-selling model in Japan, but not in the U.S., where the company sold 140,000 last year, far less than the 357,000 Camrys.

But it holds a cherished spot in its lineup and is symbolic of Toyota's leadership in the "green" car market.

Toyota was one of the first companies to mass-market a hybrid that combines an electric motor with a gas engine, introducing the Prius in Japan in 1997. Its high gas mileage made it popular among environmentally conscious drivers, especially when gas prices spiked two years ago.

But the complexity of the Prius, a highly computerized car, has led to problems in the past. In 2005, the company repaired 75,000 of them to fix software glitches that caused the engine to stall. It has also had trouble with headlights going out.

Associated Press Writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo, Tom Krisher and Dee-Ann Durbin in Detroit and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.