Toyota says it will act soon on Priuses
Unverified reports of a recall in Japan
TOKYO - Toyota said yesterday that 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 vehicle in Japan, a possible new embarrassment for the world’s biggest automaker.
Toyota Motor Corp. has had to recall more than 7 million other cars in the United States, Europe, and China over a sticky accelerator and floor mats that can get caught in the gas pedal. Those problems and criticism of Toyota’s response to them have sullied the stellar reputation for quality long held by one of Japan’s corporate icons.
Separately, the company has told dealers in the United States it is preparing to repair the brakes on thousands of Prius vehicles there, according to an e-mail 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 Takeuchi said, commenting on media reports yesterday that the company had decided to issue a Japan recall. Takeuchi did not confirm those reports.
The Prius is the world’s top-selling gas-electric hybrid, and its fuel efficiency has drawn intense interest amid concerns about global warming and dependence on fossil fuels.
Toyota decided Saturday on a recall in Japan covering its latest Prius model and has notified domestic dealers, according to Japan’s largest newspaper, the Yomiuri, which did not name sources. It said Toyota would announce the move early in the coming week after consulting with the Japanese government. Japan’s Kyodo News agency and TV Asahi carried similar reports. Kyodo said Toyota has started notifying dealers, and that at least 170,000 vehicles in Japan would be subject to recall.
Phone calls to the section at Japan’s transport ministry dealing with recalls went unanswered yesterday. None of about 10 Toyota dealers in Tokyo and the western Japanese city of Osaka had received any notification. Three dealers in the United States said the same thing on yesterday.
Prius drivers in Japan and the United States have complained of a short delay before the antilock brakes kick in - a flaw Toyota says can be fixed with a software programming change. The brakes will work if the driver keeps pushing the pedal.
The brake problem affects about 270,000 Priuses that were sold in the United States and Japan starting in May. The company says it has fixed vehicles that went on sale since last month.
Bob Carter, a Toyota group vice president, sent an e-mail message Friday night to US dealers, saying the automaker is working on a Prius repair plan and will disclose details early this week. At least 100 US drivers of Prius cars 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,’’ Carter said in the e-mail. “We want to assure our dealers that we are moving rapidly to provide a solution for your existing customers.’’
Toyota yesterday began airing spots on US television that say the company is “working around the clock’’ to build the highest-quality vehicles and to restore faith in its vehicles.
“In recent days, our company hasn’t been living up to the standards that you’ve come to expect from us,’’ an unidentified announcer said in a voiceover.
Carter wrote that the ads tell viewers about Toyota’s 50-plus years of building safe, reliable vehicles in the United States.
Toyota’s response to the safety issues has drawn the attention of US politicians.
Toyota Motor North America’s chairman, Yoshi Inaba, will appear before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday.
A key committee member has asked that transportation officials who served under President George W. Bush also appear.