Toyota may start Prius recalls

February 8, 2010

TOKYO (The WSJ) -- Toyota Motor Corp. will likely start recall or voluntary repairs to fix the braking system problems of the latest model of its highly-popular Prius hybrid in Japan as soon as early this week, people familiar with the matter said Sunday.

One person said Toyota also intends to take similar steps in the U.S. and other overseas markets simultaneously, but didn't elaborate. Toyota will likely “take an action early this week,” the person said.
The move goes a step further for Toyota, whose president Akio Toyoda, a member of the founding family, gave “a heartfelt apology” for causing a massive world-wide vehicle recall affecting over 8 million cars related to problems with its accelerator pedals and floor mats.
At the time, he provided little new on insight on what steps the company would take to resolves doubts of more than 300,000 owners world-wide of the newest-model Prius, a profit driver for Japan's biggest car maker.
Doubts over the safety of the world's most popular hybrid could further damage Toyota's sales and brand image, which has already been tarnished by the massive global recall of 8.1 million vehicles, at a potential cost of up to $2 billion, due to gas pedal and floor mat problems.
In Japan, Toyota has already provided information, including what caused the Prius problems, to its dealerships, but the company has not specifically decided what form the customer support would take--a recall or voluntary repairs, the people familiar with the matter said.
One of the people said service to owners of the newest Prius model may start as soon as soon as today. The fix will take 20 to 30 minutes to rewrite a software program.
Toyota sold 311,000 of its third-generation Prius world-wide in 2009 since its launch last May. Of the total, it sold 176,000 in Japan and 103,000 in the U.S. Prius sales in Japan in January jumped nearly fourfold to 22,306 vehicles, making the hybrid the best selling car for the eighth straight month, according to data by Japan Automobile Dealers' Association released Thursday.
Toyota said Thursday the company in late January rewrote the software program to improve the Prius's braking system. The Prius cars assembled since then all carry the modified version of the software in their braking systems, but many have been watching closely what steps the company would take for the cars it has already sold.
Toyota has said, depending on road conditions, Prius brakes were sometimes slow to respond when drivers kept lightly pressing them. When the automatic braking system is enabled under certain road conditions, the car switches from regenerative braking to hydraulic braking.
The brief time lag between the two braking systems results in cars stopping a little later than the drivers expected.
An official at one of Toyota's dealerships in Tokyo said it has not received a formal notice from Toyota, while two other dealerships declined to comment. Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Maehara Friday stoked pressure on Toyota to act more decisively.
“I heard from
[ministry] officials that they will conduct either a recall or (voluntary repair) service campaign,” Mr. Maehara said. “Whether the issue is big or not, it should be decided by (auto) users … I think Toyota's response somewhat lacks the customers' viewpoint.”
U.S. The House Energy and Commerce Committee last month said it would hold a hearing Feb. 25 to “examine persistent consumer complaints' about unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles. The committee said it would also look into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's response to the matter.