Page last updated at 15:10 GMT, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Toyota recalls thousands of Prius cars worldwide

Akio Toyoda: "Let me assure everyone we will redouble our commitment to quality"

Toyota has announced the recall of about 436,000 hybrid vehicles worldwide, including its latest Prius model, to fix brake problems.

The total includes more than 200,000 Prius cars sold in Japan and 8,500 cars in the UK.

"We have decided to recall as we regard safety for our customers as our foremost priority," the firm said.

The company has already recalled eight million vehicles because of accelerator and floormat problems.

Company president Akio Toyoda made the latest recall announcement at a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon.

TOYOTA RECALLS: STORY SO FAR
September 2007, US: 55,000 Camry and Lexus cars in floormat recall
October 2009, US: 3.8m Toyota and Lexus vehicles recalled due to floormat problem
November 2009, US: floormat recall increased to 4.2m vehicles
January 2010, US: 2.3m Toyota vehicles recalled due to accelerator pedal problems (of those, 2.1m already involved in floormat recall)
January 2010, US: 1.1m Toyotas in floormat recall
February 2010, Europe: 1.8m Toyota's in pedal recall
February 2010, Japan, US: 200 reports of brake faults in new Prius. Cars recalled
February 2010, worldwide: 436,000 hybrid vehicles in brake recall. Also, 7,300 Camry vehicles recalled in the US over potential brake tube problems

"We will do everything in our power to regain the confidence of our customers," he said.

After the conference, he told reporters that he might go to the United States next week to explain details about the recall.

The Prius was Japan's top-selling car in 2009 and the world's most popular hybrid model.

Peter De Lorenzo, author of the book The United States of Toyota, told the BBC that the latest recall would be particularly painful for the company.

"The Prius is their shining example of their vision of what we should all be driving and it is everything the new Toyota represents. So for them to have to acknowledge a recall of hundreds of thousands of them is a tremendous blow to their image," he said.

Credit rating agency Moody's said it had put Toyota's credit rating on review for a possible downgrade, following the latest recall.

"This action is prompted by Moody's concern that the growing scale of Toyota's product problems and associated recalls may have longer term impacts on its brand equity, pricing power and market share in key markets," it said.

Toyota's president has come under criticism from Japan's transport minister Seiji Maehara for not reacting quickly enough to recall faulty vehicles.

"I wish you had taken measures earlier rather than simply saying it was not a major technical problem," Mr Maehara told Mr Toyoda in a meeting.

Mr Maehara said he would meet US ambassador John Roos on Wednesday to discuss the situation.

"Recalling defective products is important, but each country needs to consider how to prevent this from becoming a diplomatic problem," he said.

Software update

There would also be recalls of Hybrid Sai, sold only in Japan, and Lexus HS250h, sold globally, the company said on Tuesday.

Johnny Goldstone, greentomatocars.com: "If we were concerned... we would take all the cars off the road without hesitation"

The latest recall refers to third-generation Prius models built before 27 January 2010.

There have been complaints in Japan and the US that the brakes momentarily fail when driven on rough or slippery road surfaces.

Toyota blames a software glitch and says it has already fixed vehicles sold this year.

In a statement, Toyota said it was keen to reassure Prius owners that the cars were safe to drive.

"At no time are drivers without brakes," the firm said.

Toyota said that it would be writing to vehicle owners affected and the procedure - to upgrade the anti-lock braking system - would be carried out free of charge.

In the UK, no other Toyota or Lexus models are affected by the latest recall.

In addition to recalling 133,000 2010 Prius models in the US, Toyota said it will also recall 14,550 Lexus Division HS250h 2010 models to update software in the vehicle's anti-lock braking system.

Separately, Toyota has announced a safety recall on about 7,300 2010 Camry vehicles in the US over problems that could lead to a hole in the brake tube, causing a brake fluid leak. Owners of the Camry models involved will be contacted by post in the middle of February.

Investigation

The US Transportation Department said last week that it was investigating the braking problems with Prius.

Toyota Prius hybrid vehicle
Toyota is recalling 436,000 hybrid cars worldwide

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration received 124 reports from drivers about it, including four of crashes.

There have been no reports of any such accidents in the UK.

The US investigation will look into allegations of momentary loss of braking power while travelling over uneven road surfaces.

Mr Toyoda wrote that he had been in contact with US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and assured him that communication would be kept open, would be more frequent, and that Toyota would be "more vigilant in responding" to officials.

Before it announced the Prius recall in Japan, Toyota estimated that its losses would reach $2bn (£1.23bn) in costs and lost sales from its worldwide recall of vehicles that might have faulty accelerator pedals.

The Prius recall is expected to send this figure even higher.



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