Toyota to announce Prius recall this week: report

Toyota, reeling from safety woes that have sullied its reputation around the globe, will this week announce the recall of 300,000 Prius hybrid vehicles because of brake flaws, reports said Sunday.

The move by the Japanese auto giant will affect the latest model of the Prius, a car beloved of Hollywood stars and environmentalists, following scores of complaints about brake malfunctions.

The Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper said the recall, which would repair a software programme for the anti-lock braking system designed to prevent skidding, is expected to affect some 270,000 vehicles in Japan and the United States alone.

"The company has notified its dealers in Japan that it would recall all the (new model Prius) vehicles sold in the country," the mass-circulation paper said, without giving a source.

"The company will also repair the software free of charge in the United States and other countries in a similar manner," Yomiuri said, adding that the company would make an official announcement this week.

The Nikkei business daily said Toyota would also repair about 30,000 vehicles sold in Europe, China, Australia, Middle East and other areas.

Toyota, which has had to recall around eight million cars around the world because of sticky accelerator pedals, has sold more than 300,000 of the latest Prius in 60 countries and territories since the new model rolled out in May.

Representatives of Toyota, the world's largest automaker, were not immediately available to confirm the reports.

Toyota has come under fresh fire after it said it had fixed the Prius brake system in January without warning drivers who already own the model about the possibility of brake failure.

Japan's transport ministry has reportedly received about 80 complaints this month about malfunctions in the brake system and called for an investigation, while Toyota has separately received more than 100 complaints since the crisis broke.

Local media have said that five cases reported to the government relate to crashes in which the brakes malfunctioned, according to the drivers.

The Prius -- which combines a petrol combustion engine with a battery-powered electric motor -- is Toyota's flagship hybrid car and key to its efforts to stay in pole position in fuel-efficient vehicles.

Toyota, which dethroned General Motors in 2008 as the world's biggest automaker, produced 530,000 hybrids in 2009, spanning 15 models from sport utility vehicles to sedans, mini-vans and the luxury Lexus series.

The Prius braking problems have come on top of trouble with unintended acceleration with Toyota cars.

The company has come under heavy fire for its handling of massive recalls affecting about eight million vehicles worldwide -- more than its entire 2009 global sales of 7.8 million vehicles -- due to accelerator trouble.

The accelerator problems have been blamed for several accidents, including an incident in California in August in which four family members were killed when their Lexus sedan sped up on a highway and crashed in a ball of flames.

A US class-action lawsuit filed in Colorado against Toyota has alleged the Japanese automaker hid problems that have led to the rash of recalls and seeking compensation for all residents who own affected cars.

Company president Akio Toyoda said Friday he was "deeply sorry" for the string of quality issues and said he would head a new task force to raise standards and investigate the cause of the problems.

"Believe me, Toyota cars are safe," he said.

But major Japanese newspapers have lashed out at Toyota's slow response to the safety fiasco and warned it could hurt the country's hard-won reputation for trustworthy technology.

"Words alone cannot settle the situation. Toyota represents Japan and its shaking could lead to a loss of trust for the entire Japan brand," the Nikkei business daily said in an editorial on Saturday.

"Failure to deal properly with the current fiasco could deal a blow to the international trust in Japan's manufacturing technology," added the Yomiuri.

Toyota, which is staring at a two-billion-dollar bill from the global recall, is facing "a moment of crisis," admitted Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder.

Despite the huge recalls, however, the Japanese giant reported last week it was on course to earn 80 billion yen (880 million dollars) this fiscal year to March.

 

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