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Toyota's shares slide as its reputation loses steam

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is telling owners of recalled Toyotas to stop driving the vehicles and get them fixed.

"Toyota has enjoyed a reputation for quality and safety that gave them a certain level of goodwill and brand loyalty with consumers," said Jeffrey Thomen, a product-recall specialist with the law firm McCarter & English. "Now with the pedal recall, you can see that reputation is taking a hit and that the typical consumer complaint will be looked at with more heightened scrutiny going forward by U.S. auto safety officials."

As if things weren't bad enough, now Toyota's pride and joy is the latest log on the PR bonfire.

The Japanese government has ordered Toyota to investigate the 2010 Prius braking system, and the U.S. government said it would probe the Prius's brakes, too. Of 171 complaints filed by 2010 Prius owners with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 111 involved brake problems, the agency's database shows, and at least two led to driver injuries.

The Prius employs an unusual system known as "regenerative braking" that turns braking energy into electricity, which is pumped back into the Prius's battery. The process can feel unusual to a new Prius owner.

Concerns about the Prius will not make it any easier for Toyota to repair its image. In auto industry terms, the Prius is a "halo" vehicle, an attention-getting car that typically does not sell widely -- either because of high cost or specific traits -- but that is promoted as the best that automaker has to offer.

Staff writer Nicole Norfleet contributed to this report.

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