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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Reports: Toyota plans to recall 300,000 Priuses

ASSOCIATED PRESS

TOKYO — Toyota plans to recall about 300,000 Prius hybrids worldwide over a brake problem and is likely to notify both the U.S. and Japanese governments Tuesday, news reports said, as a top executive will testify before U.S. lawmakers about defects that have tarnished its reputation for quality and safety.

The recall of the gas-electric Prius will cover the latest version of the cars that went on sale from May last year, Kyodo News agency reported late Monday.

Kyodo, which did not identify its sources for the information, said the automaker planned to notify authorities in Japan on Tuesday and probably also in the U.S. on the same day. The recall will cover about 270,000 of the hybrids sold in the two countries — 170,000 in Japan and 100,000 in the U.S., Kyodo said.

Japan's Nikkei business daily carried a similar report about Toyota's recall plans on its Web site, saying the automaker would notify authorities in Japan on Tuesday and was also likely to do so in the U.S. at about the same time.

Toyota Motor Corp. spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said no decision on a Prius recall has been made. Kenji Sugai, an official in Japan's Transport Ministry section in charge of recalls, said it had not been informed of any such plan by Toyota.

The automaker is still weighing its options on how to handle the Prius repairs in the U.S., but it intends to begin fixing them soon, according to a person briefed on the matter who asked not to be identified because the remedy hasn't been made public.

Toyota has said among its options are a service campaign in which owners would be notified to bring their cars in for repairs, or a full-fledged safety recall. Toyota is communicating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on how to handle the fix.

A service campaign wouldn't have the stigma of a safety recall, but regulators may press for the recall.

The reports follow others in Japanese media recently that the world's largest automaker has decided to announce a recall early this week as a way of regaining damaged consumer trust. Toyota has already recalled more than 7 million other cars for repairs in the U.S. and other countries over a sticky accelerator and floor mats that can get caught in the gas pedal.

The company has consistently only said it will soon announce plans to deal with the braking problem in the Prius.

At least 100 drivers of Prius cars in the U.S. have complained to Washington that their antilock brakes seemed to fail momentarily while driving on bumpy roads. The Japanese government has also received dozens of complaints. The U.S. says the problem is suspected in four crashes that caused two minor injuries.

Toyota says a software glitch is behind the problem. The company says it has already fixed vehicles that went on sale since last month. It has also said that the brakes will work if the driver keeps pushing the pedal.

The Prius is the world's top-selling gas-electric hybrid and its fuel efficiency has drawn intense interest amid concerns about global warming and dependence on fossil fuels.

Toyota has sold a little more than 300,000 of the vehicles in about 60 countries since May, according to the company — and any recall was likely to eventually affect most of those cars.

Kyodo also reported that recalls and other measures in other countries will follow those in Japan and the U.S.

Toyota sales expert Yoshimi Inaba will appear before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator David Strickland. The name of the hearing: "Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?"

Inaba was hand-picked from semiretirement by Toyota President Akio Toyoda last year to head the North American operations and help steer Toyota through the company's biggest earnings slump in its 72-year history as global auto sales dived.

General Motors Co. said Monday it will start shipping parts to dealers this week to fix about 99,000 2009-2010 Pontiac Vibes equipped with the same sticky gas pedal systems as Toyota's. The Vibe is essentially the same car as a Toyota Matrix, built by a joint venture between the two automakers. The Vibe also is covered by the floor mat recall, and GM is urging customers to take out removable mats and put them in the trunk until a fix is ready.



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