Toyota to recall 270,000 cars over engine fault

Toyota Motor said Friday it would recall 270,000 vehicles worldwide because of an engine fault affecting cars including its luxury Lexus range and Crown sedans, in the latest blow to its reputation.

The world's largest automaker said faulty valve springs in certain engines could potentially lead to affected vehicles stopping while in operation.

It plans to submit a recall notice to Japan's transport ministry on Monday, with the latest action affecting 90,000 units in Japan and 180,000 overseas, most of them in the United States.

"The recall is due to defective parts of valve springs, which may result in abnormal noise or idling. In a worst case, the engine could stop," said Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi.

Toyota has been hit by a series of safety recalls and has pulled around 10 million vehicles worldwide since late last year, mostly due to acceleration problems.

Toyota's latest announcement comes as the company looks to improve its recall process following heavy criticism of the way it handled safety issues in the United States that have been blamed for more than 80 deaths.

Company president Akio Toyoda in June apologised to shareholders for the recall crisis, saying he thought he might have to resign when he was hauled before a US congressional hearing in February.

Toyota Motor Sales USA said about 137,000 of the 180,000 units abroad would be recalled in the United States and advised customers to contact their local dealer.

The beleaguered automaker said that defective 4.6-litre V8 and 3.5-litre V6 engines were installed in eight models including some hybrids - the Lexus GS350, GS450h, GS460, IS350, LS460, LS600h and LS600hL as well as Crown sedans. Toyota said it had not received any reports of accidents or injuries related to the fault.

While smaller than earlier recalls, the fact that the latest problem affects Toyota's luxury Lexus brand is another serious blow to the company's already battered reputation, said Tatsuya Mizuno, analyst at Mizuno Credit Advisory.

"It has renewed uncertainties surrounding the company," he said.

"The recall may bring a psychological impact as this has happened to its most luxurious models, which Toyota offered to customers with full confidence."

In April the automaker recalled 6,000 Lexus sports utility vehicles in the United States due to potential stability problems after a consumer magazine slapped them with a "Don't Buy" rating.

In May it announced a recall of 11,500 other Lexus vehicles over steering issues.

Mizuno said that the latest recall "may dampen consumer sentiment on its cars at a time when Toyota is still struggling to recover while it faces class action lawsuits in the United States."

Toyota paid a record 16.4-million-dollar fine to settle claims it had hidden gas pedal defects in the United States, and US officials have refused to rule out the possibility of more fines as they review thousands of internal papers.

More than 200 federal and around 100 state cases have been filed against the carmaker for alleged design flaws dating back to 2002 when a computerised system was installed to manage acceleration.

The federal cases have been consolidated into one class action case.

Toyota returned to the black in the fiscal year ended March and forecast surging profits despite the millions of recalls that it estimated would cost 180 billion yen (two billion dollars) for the period.

Shares in the automaker closed up 0.33 percent in Tokyo, having lost nearly 30 percent since the beginning of the year.