Toyota announces global Prius recall

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Around 8,500 Toyota Prius cars are to be recalled in the UK because of a braking problem in the latest blow to the reputation of the giant Japanese company, it was announced today.

Part of a 400,000-vehicle recall worldwide, the UK recall involves the third generation of the hybrid electric-petrol Prius and affects models manufactured from last summer up to January 27 this year.

Toyota said the problem related to what it described as "inconsistent brake feel" during slow and steady braking on bumpy road surfaces when the anti-lock braking system is actuated.

The beleaguered company added that there had been no accidents linked to this issue in Europe.

Apologising to customers, Toyota GB said the recall would consist of a software upgrade in the anti-lock braking system. The procedure will be carried out free of charge and will take approximately 40 minutes using standard test equipment in use at all authorised Toyota service centres.

The company said it would write individually to every owner or keeper in the next few days.

It went on: "In the meantime, the cars are safe to drive. At no time are drivers without brakes. Toyota GB guarantees to every customer its utmost attention to making this upgrade as quickly and efficiently as possible."

The announcement about the environmentally-friendly, ultra-low emissions Prius follows the recall of around seven million Toyotas worldwide - including about 180,000 in the UK - over problems with accelerator pedals.

"I don't see Toyota as an infallible company that never makes mistakes," President Akio Toyoda said at a press conference today in Tokyo. "We will face up to the facts and correct the problem, putting customers' safety and convenience first."

There have been about 200 complaints in Japan and the US about a delay when the brakes in the Prius were pressed in cold conditions and on some bumpy roads.

"Let me assure everyone that we will redouble our commitment to quality as the lifeline of our company," Toyoda said.

Toyota officials went to Japan's Transport Ministry earlier today to formally notify officials the company is recalling the 2010 Prius petrol-electric hybrid — the world's top-selling hybrid car. The carmaker is also recalling two other hybrid models in Japan, the Lexus HS250h sedan, sold in the US and Japan, and the Sai, which is sold only in Japan.

The 223,000 cars being recalled in Japan include nearly 200,000 Priuses sold from April last year through to Monday, according to papers the carmaker filed with the ministry. The Prius is Japan's top-selling car.

In the US, Toyota will recall 133,000 Prius cars and 14,500 Lexus HS250h vehicles. Nearly 53,000 Priuses are also being recalled in Europe. Toyota is suspending production of the Sai and Lexus HS250h in Japan until the updated software for those models is ready.

If drivers experience a delayed reaction when depressing the brakes in any of these models, they should keep pressing, according to Toyota and the transport ministry.

The Prius repairs will start in Japan tomorrow.

Toyoda, the president, has been criticised for being largely invisible during the two weeks after the company announced the accelerator pedal recall in the US, Europe and China.

He apologised at his first public press conference last Friday, but was criticised by the Japanese media for failing to outline concrete steps to tackle the safety crisis and reassure customers around the world.

In contrast to his halting English in response to questions from foreign reporters at last week's news conference, Toyoda seemed much better prepared today, reading from an English statement after doing so in Japanese.

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

He said he planned to go to the US soon to talk with American workers and dealers to bring the ranks together.

Problems with hybrid braking systems haven't been limited to Toyota.

Ford said last week it plans to fix 17,600 Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion petrol-electric hybrids because of a software problem that can give drivers the impression that the brakes have failed. The carmaker says the problem occurs in transition between two braking systems and at no time are drivers without brakes.

Toyota's plug-in hybrid is also being recalled in Japan, Europe and the US, but in small numbers because it is a largely experimental model for rental and government use.

The Prius holds a cherished spot in Toyota's vehicle lineup and is symbolic of its leadership in the "green" car market.

But Toyoda acknowledged the company could have done better in picking up on the complaints, managing the crisis and sending a message to car owners on a fix.

Toyota was one of the first companies to mass-market a hybrid that combines an electric motor with a petrol engine, introducing the Prius in Japan in 1997. Its high gas mileage made it popular among environmentally conscious drivers, especially when gas prices spiked two years ago.

But the complexity of the Prius, a highly computerised car, has led to problems in the past. In 2005, the company repaired 75,000 of them to fix software glitches that caused the engine to stall. It has also had trouble with headlights going out.

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