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Toyota recalls Prius, other hybrids on brake woes

Tokyo, February 9, 2010

Toyota Motor Corp is recalling nearly half a million of its flagship Prius and other hybrid cars for braking problems, a third major recall since September and a further blow to the reputation of the world's largest automaker.

Toyota is already under fire for two other recalls covering more than 8 million vehicles worldwide due to problems with slipping floormats and sticky accelerator pedals.

It is also facing a potential rush of litigation for crashes linked to unintended acceleration blamed for 19 deaths and numerous injuries in the US over the past decade.

Criticised by US safety authorities and members of the Obama administration for moving too slowly on those recalls, Toyota said President Akio Toyoda and Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki, in charge of quality, would hold a media briefing at 3:30 p.m. (0630 GMT) in Tokyo regarding the recall.

Documents from Toyota and seen by Reuters showed it was recalling a total of 436,000 units of its 2010 Prius, new Sai and Lexus HS250h hybrids globally, including 223,000 in Japan and 150,000 in North America.

The new Prius is sold in some 60 countries, with cumulative sales of almost 350,000 units.

Toyoda said the company founded by his grandfather would work more closely with US regulators.

'I have spoken with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and given him my personal assurance that lines of communications with safety agencies and regulators will be kept open, that we will communicate more frequently and that we will be more vigilant in responding to those officials on all matters,' Toyoda wrote in an op-ed in the Washington Post.

Toyoda would meet with Japan's transport minister to apologise for the series of recalls, the documents said.

Glitch fixed

Toyota has said it had fixed a software glitch in the anti-brake lock system (ABS) on the 2010 Prius at the end of last month, and that cars being produced now would not be subject to any recall.

Owners of the latest, third-generation Prius have complained that on bumpy roads and on ice, the regenerative brakes which help charge the vehicles' electric battery appear to slip and it lurches forward before the traditional brakes engage.

US automaker Ford Motor Co said last week it would roll out a software patch for consumers to address similar problems with braking on two of its hybrid models, without filing a recall.

Toyota's hybrid recall is also likely to raise questions about the US safety authorities' delay in investigating complaints over braking on the Prius.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had received more than 100 complaints before opening a formal investigation on Feb. 3, a day after Toyota made its own announcement.

Shares in Toyota, which lost about a fifth of their value since late January, were up 3.8 percent, outperforming a 0.1 percent fall in the Nikkei average.

'The shares fell while Toyota appeared not to be doing anything to deal with its problems. But now, the fact that they're taking concrete steps on the issue is being seen as positive,' said Hiroaki Osakabe, a fund manager at Chibagin Asset Management.

'But the gains will be limited since many investors want to see the impact of the problems on US car sales, with more share selling ahead if there's a big drop.'

Lawsuits

In the apparent first of a potential rush of legal claims over the Prius, the owner of a 2010 Prius has sued Toyota in Los Angeles, claiming the automaker failed to fix a brake defect and seeking a court order requiring a recall.

Daniel Warshaw, a lawyer for Pearson, Simon, Warshaw & Penny LLP, said he believes his client is the first to file a suit seeking class-action status over the braking complaints on the Prius.

'I believe there will be many other lawsuits across the country in 72 hours,' he told Reuters.

Meanwhile, complaints to US safety regulators about 2010 Prius brake problems have jumped sharply since the Transportation Department announced a formal investigation last week.

Several complaint files total more than 1,000 reports from vehicle owners but a partial review of the documents submitted to NHTSA found some duplicates, so the exact number is unclear.

Four injuries were reported.

More bad news came when KBB, or Kelley Blue Book, said on Monday it plans to cut US used-car values of recalled Toyotas by 1.5 percent 'on concerns around the growing supply of unsold Toyotas on both dealer lots and at auctions.'

This came after KBB on Feb. 5 cut used-car values of recalled Toyotas by 1-3 percent.

Used-car values are a key component in car dealers' ability to set residual values -- or how much a used car will be worth 36 months after purchase -- and interest rates.

Toyota faces further scrutiny on Wednesday when its North America chief executive, Yoshimi Inaba, testifies to Congress in front of the House Oversight Committee in Washington.

Transportation Secretary LaHood and NHTSA administration administrator David Strickland will also testify. – Reuters




Tags: Toyota | recall | Tokyo | Prius | hybrids | Brake |

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