TOYOTA said yesterday it will soon announce plans to deal with braking problems in its prized Prius hybrid, amid reports it has decided to issue a recall for the latest model in Japan, a possible new embarrassment for the world’s biggest automaker.
Toyota Motor Corp has already had to recall more than 7 million other cars in the US, Europe and China over a sticky accelerator and floor mats catching in the gas pedal. Those problems and criticism of Toyota’s response to them have sullied the stellar reputation for quality long enjoyed by one of Japan’s corporate icons.
Separately, the company has told dealers in the US it is preparing to repair the brakes on thousands of Prius vehicles there, according to an email sent by a company executive. It was unclear whether Toyota planned a formal US recall.
“We will make an announcement soon on the action we plan to take,” spokeswoman Ririko Take- uchi said yesterday. Takeuchi did not confirm media reports that Toyota has issued a recall in Japan.
The Prius is the world’s top-selling gas-electrichybrid and its fuel efficiency has drawn intense interest amid concerns about global warming and dependence on fossil fuels.
Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, reported at the weekend that the company would announce its decision to recall in Japan this week.
Japan’s Kyodo News agency and TV Asahi carried similar reports. Kyodo said Toyota had started notifying dealers and that at least 170,000 vehicles in Japan would be recalled.
Phone calls to Japan’s transport ministry went unanswered yesterday. None of 10 Toyota dealers in Tokyo and the western Japanese city of Osaka contacted about the reports said they had received any notification, though some said they expected to have news this week.
Prius drivers in Japan and the US have complained of a short delay before the brakes kick in – a flaw Toyota says can be fixed with a software programming change. The lag occurs as the car is switching between brakes for the gas engine and the electric motor – a process key to the hybrid’s increased mileage.
The brake problem affects about 270,000 Priuses sold in the US and Japan from last May. The company blames a software glitch and says it has fixed vehicles on sale since last month.
Bob Carter, a Toyota group vice president, sent an email message Friday night to US dealers saying the company is working on a Prius repair plan and will disclose more details early this week.
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