Toyota is to recall its flagship Prius hybrid in Japan, it was reported today.
The reports came as the car giant told dealers in the US it was preparing to repair the brakes on thousands of Priuses there. But it was unclear whether Toyota planned a formal US recall.
The Japanese company is already in the middle of a global recall of 4.5 million other vehicles over defective accelerator pedals and floor mats that could cause unintended acceleration.
Those problems and criticism of Toyota’s response to them have sullied the stellar reputation for quality long enjoyed by the world’s biggest car maker.
Toyota decided on a separate recall in Japan of its latest Prius model and had notified dealers, Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, reported, without naming sources.
It said Toyota would announce the move early this week after consulting the Japanese government.
Japan’s Kyodo News agency and TV Asahi carried similar reports and Kyodo said at least 170,000 vehicles in Japan would be recalled.
Toyota, which said last week it was still deciding what to do about the Prius and that a recall was an option, did not confirm the Yomiuri report.
“We will make an announcement soon on the action we plan to take,” spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said today.
A phone call to the section at Japan’s transport ministry dealing with recalls went unanswered today.
The brake problem affects about 270,000 petrol-electric Priuses that were sold in the US and Japan starting last May. The company blames a software glitch and says it has already fixed vehicles that went on sale since last month.
Separately, Bob Carter, a Toyota group vice president, sent an email message on Friday to US dealers saying the car maker was working on a Prius repair plan and would disclose more details early this week.
At least 100 drivers of Priuses in the US have complained to the government that their brakes seemed to fail momentarily when they were driving on bumpy roads. The government says the problem is suspected in four crashes and two minor injuries.
Public awareness of the problem “has prompted considerable customer concern, speculation, and media attention due to the significance of the Prius image”, Mr Carter said in the email.
“We want to assure our dealers that we are moving rapidly to provide a solution for your existing customers.”
Besides a full-fledged safety recall, the company could simply ask owners to bring their vehicles in for repairs, since the brakes are not failing completely. The lag occurs as the car switches between brakes for the petrol engine and the electric motor – a process that is key to the hybrid’s increased mileage.
Toyota has acknowledged receiving dozens of complaints about the Prius in Japan.
There is top-level government concern in Japan about Toyota’s quality problems. Cabinet ministers have expressed alarm and urged the company to move more quickly to ease consumer worries.
Media criticism of Toyota has intensified since a news conference on Friday by Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda, in which he offered an apology for the defects but few details about what the car maker would do about the Prius.