Toyota to recall and repair brakes on new Priuses sold in Japan

By Blaine Harden
Monday, February 8, 2010

TOKYO -- Toyota's quality woes mounted over the weekend, with a reported decision in its home market to recall and repair the brakes on its latest model of the Prius, the hybrid that last year was the best-selling new car in Japan.

Company sources told dealers and the Japanese media that at least 170,000 of the cars in Japan would be subject to the recall, which will fix a software glitch in antilock brakes. Owners have complained that the car's brakes sometimes fail briefly on bumpy roads.

Toyota also intends to begin recalls or voluntary repairs for more than 300,000 of the new Prius models, which have been sold in about 60 countries, company sources told local media.

About 103,000 of the newest Prius models have been sold in the United States since May, and Toyota has told dealers that it is preparing a plan to repair the brakes on those. A Toyota executive, in a message to U.S. dealers, said the plan will be announced this week.

In the past decade, as concern about global warming has grown, the gas-sipping hybrid has become one of the world's most widely recognized symbols of green consciousness.

The newest model, rolled out here last year, was intended to boost sales beyond the eco-aware and make it a "mainstream car," with more power, more headroom, a bigger trunk, better gas mileage and a lower price. In Japan last year, customers bought 208,876 Priuses. Sales were helped by government tax breaks and incentives.

The brake issue on the Prius is separate from gas pedal and floor mat problems that forced Toyota last month to close five plants in North America and led to the global recall of millions of cars and trucks. Safety concerns at Toyota, which made its reputation and built its growth on dedication to quality, have triggered the worst public-relations crisis in its history.

At a hastily called news conference Friday night in Japan, Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, apologized for the safety problems. After weeks of staying mostly out of sight, he said he would head a global task force to repair the company's image and fix quality problems. "Rather than focus on the number of cars we sell, we will put our first priority on taking away our customers' anxiety and winning back trust," Toyoda said. "I believe that trust will come back to us as days pass."

Toyota will announce the domestic Prius recall this week, local media said. The brake fix can be made at dealerships in less than an hour. Priuses made late last month have the new software.

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