TOKYO – Toyota says it is recalling about 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles worldwide to fix brake problems.
“I don’t see Toyota as an infallible company that never makes mistakes,” President Akio Toyoda said at a press conference Tuesday 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 U.S. about a delay when the brakes in the Prius were pressed in cold conditions and on some bumpy roads. The delay doesn’t indicate a brake failure. The company says the problem can be fixed in 40 minutes with new software that oversees the controls of the antilock brakes.
“Let me assure everyone that we will redouble our commitment to quality as the lifeline of our company,” Toyoda said.
The company is recalling the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid — the world’s top-selling hybrid car. The automaker is also recalling two other hybrid models in Japan, the Lexus HS250h sedan, sold in the U.S. 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 Monday, according to papers the automaker filed with the ministry. The Prius is Japan’s top-selling car.
In the U.S., 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. The Toyota executive overseeing quality Shinichi Sasaki said the delay that Prius drivers can feel when braking lasts for a fraction of a second as the antilock brakes kick in. The problem happens only on snowy or bumpy surfaces, and the complaints did not become more numerous until recently when the weather got colder, Sasaki said.
The Prius repairs will start in Japan on Wednesday. U.S. owners will start receiving letters about the recall next week.
Problems with hybrid braking systems haven’t been limited to Toyota.
Ford Motor Co. said last week it plans to fix 17,600 Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion gas-electric hybrids because of a software problem that can give drivers the impression that the brakes have failed. The automaker says the problem occurs in transition between two braking systems and at no time are drivers without brakes.
But the complexity of the Prius, a highly computerized 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.
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.
In the U.S., Toyota will add five more centers in addition to the current three that investigate customer complaints, Sasaki said.