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IT’S OFFICIAL: Toyota has recalled its hybrid hero, the Prius, just a day after launching the first Australian-made petrol-electric car, the Camry

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Toyota to fix Prius brakes, affecting 400,000 Prius owners – nearly 2400 in Oz

9 February 2010


IT’S OFFICIAL: Toyota has recalled its hybrid hero, the Prius, just a day after launching the first Australian-made petrol-electric car, the Camry Hybrid.

The widely anticipated global safety recall to fix the brakes on its third-generation Prius affects about 400,000 cars worldwide and 2378 in Australia, where it went on sale in July 2009.

Toyota’s petrol-electric pop symbol is the latest model to humiliate the world’s largest car-maker, which has initiated two of the world’s largest ever safety recalls, to fix faulty floor mats and then sticky accelerator pedals in 8.1 million vehicles on five continents - more vehicles than Toyota sold globally in all of 2009.

The news could not have come at a worse time in Australia, where this week’s Camry Hybrid launch was overshadowed by the impending Prius recall.

Reports of an imminent recall have circulated for several days in Japan, where the Prius was the top-selling vehicle car last year, following last Friday night’s long-awaited public apology for the quality-control debacles by Toyota president Akio Toyoda.

Announced globally today (February 8 in the US) as a “voluntary safety recall… to update software in the vehicle’s anti-lock brake system (ABS)”, the embarrassing problem affects about 8500 Prius models in the UK, 223,000 in Japan and some 139,000 in the US, where 16,000 examples of the Prius-based HS250h sedan from Lexus are also involved - for a global total of 437,000 vehicles.

Toyota confirmed on February 4 that the same software fix was applied to Prius models on the factory production line from late January. The next day Mr Toyoda promised the same “improvement” would be applied to MkIII Prius cars in customer hands, but insisted his company’s cars were still safe to drive.

Toyota has confirmed 111 reports of inconsistent brake feel in the Prius globally, including two in Australia, which has so far escaped the throttle defects in overseas models that have been linked to 19 deaths in the US by lawyers.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on February 4 that it had received 124 complaints, with four crashes and two injuries alleged to have been caused by the problem. Automotive News reports that less than a week later the NHTSA database had recorded more than 900 complaints and at least 6 injuries. No accidents have been reported due to the problem in Australia.

Yesterday at the Camry Hybrid launch Toyota Australia sales and marketing director David Buttner said: “There is no impending recall that I know of” but added that he expected Toyota to announce the result of its official investigation – prompted by safety regulators in the US and Japan – “within a few days”.

Today, in an email to journalists that attended the Camry Hybrid launch, Mr Buttner said Toyota had made a quick decision, following a thorough investigation, in the interests of its customers.

“A short time ago, Toyota Motor Corporation advised that the current-generation Prius is being recalled globally. As a consequence, we will be conducting a recall in Australia of almost 2400 cars,” he said in an email around 6.00pm today.

“In answer to various questions yesterday, I made it clear TMC would make a decision quickly. This has indeed been the case. TMC has undertaken a thorough investigation and we are taking the appropriate course of action in the interests of our customers.”

Formally announcing the Prius recall this evening, Toyota Australia public affairs manager Glenn Campbell said the Japanese giant has initiated a safety recall campaign following reports from customers of “inconsistent brake feel when braking lightly”.

“The brake pedal feel may not be consistent, but I can tell you that the brakes will continue to operate.

“Starting today we will be contacting all current-generation Prius customers to arrange for their vehicle to be repaired. This repair will be performed at no cost to the owner.

“The locally built Hybrid Camry launched in Australia this week is not impacted and will be available to customers (later this month) as scheduled,” said Mr Campbell in a statement.

While Toyota insists the problem does not diminish braking performance in the new Prius, which has a different braking system to its predecessor, GoAuto understands the condition occurs as the car’s brake software calibration switches between regenerative mode and hydraulically assisted ABS mode.

Similar to the issue that has led to the recall of Ford’s Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids in the US, the safety defect is said to resemble momentary brake loss or ABS intervention on low-friction surfaces under moderate brake pedal pressure.

After driving the new Prius himself, Mr Toyoda confirmed that there can be a momentary sensation of the brakes losing power when the car rides over bumpy or slippery surfaces, due to a time lag in switching into anti-lock braking mode, which can cause increased stopping distance.

“I myself have confirmed the situation,” said Toyota's global chief, who also revealed that he will visit the US to personally inspect progress of the unprecedented recall.

“From the driver's point of view, you might have the sensation that the brakes are not working.”

Executive vice-president Shinichi Sasaki said the problem is not technically a defect because the car is still able to stop within legal safety guidelines. Despite that, he said, Toyota decided to upgrade the ABS software of cars already on the road to restore customer trust.

Toyota Motor Sales USA said the Prius fix, which would also be applied to the US-only Lexus HS250h hybrid as a running production change later this month, involved “improving the ABS system’s response time, as well as the system’s overall sensitivity to tire slippage”.

According to Toyota Australia: “The recall is being taken in response to reports of inconsistent brake feel during slow and steady braking on certain road conditions such as a pot-hole, bumpy or slippery road surfaces when the ABS is activated.

“The brake pedal feel may not be consistent, but the brakes will continue to operate.

“The recall entails a change to the ABS management program of the vehicle's electronic control unit (ECU) in order to improve response time. The procedure will take approximately one hour using standard test equipment in use at all authorised Toyota dealers.”

Toyota stresses the Prius recall, which affects all markets including Japan, North America and Europe, is not related to the concurrent accelerator pedal recall in North America, Europe and China, nor last October’s “floor mat entrapment” recall in the US – neither of which affect Australia.

It said Australian owners of the current-model Prius will receive a campaign notification by mail this week, advising them to contact their local Toyota dealer to arrange for repairs to be made.

Prius vehicles affected in Australia were built between either April 7, 2009 and January 27, 2010 (carrying vehicle identification numbers between 01000092 and 01157273), and January 13 and January 27 (carrying VINs between 05000003 and 05118023).

MkIII Prius owners in the US, where a separate voluntary safety recall to inspect the power steering and brake hoses of about 7300 versions of the 2010 Camry was also announced today, will have to wait until next week for Toyota to begin posting recall letters, while HS250h owners will receive them “in the next few weeks”.

The Camry problem so far relates only to North American four-cylinder models, in which a too-long power steering hose could come into contact with a front brake fluid hose, causing the braking system to fail.

“Should this condition continue, a hole may wear in the brake tube and deplete the brake fluid in the vehicle,” said TMS USA. “As a result, the brake pedal stroke will increase and lead to greater vehicle stopping distance.”

In its list of frequently asked questions about the Prius, HS250h and Camry recalls in the US, TMS says that if a Prius or HS250h owner experiences inconsistent brake feel, “pressing hard on the brake pedal will stop the vehicle safely”.

“The vehicles are safe to drive because pressing hard on the brake pedal will stop the vehicle,” said Toyota.

“We’re committed to doing everything we can – as fast as we can – to restore consumer trust in Toyota, and these recalls are part of this effort,” said TMS USA president and COO, Jim Lentz.

“We regret the inconvenience this recall will cause to Prius and HS250h owners and will do our best with the support of our dealers to make sure that it is conducted in the most trouble-free manner possible.

“As part of the quality improvement program announced by Toyota president Akio Toyoda last week, our company is undertaking a top to bottom review to ensure that our vehicles meet our own high standards of safety and reliability, now and for the future.

“We are taking steps to implement more stringent quality control across the company, to investigate customer complaints more aggressively and to respond more quickly to any safety issues we identify.”



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