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Toyota struggles to find Prius fix

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Toyota struggles to find Prius fix

Report of runaway vehicle in California adds to automaker's woes

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday it is still working on a fix for more than 700,000 recalled Prius vehicles, including one that raced at more than 90 mph along a California freeway Monday.

Toyota announced in November that it would recall 4.26 million vehicles, including 2004-09 Prius models, to address possible sudden acceleration when the pedal gets trapped. That recall was boosted by 1.1 million vehicles in January.

The automaker said all models will get new, smaller pedals and floor mats. On some, the floor will be reshaped to increase the clearance between it and the pedal. And brake override systems will be installed that will prohibit acceleration if the brake is being applied.

But almost four months after announcing the recall, Toyota hasn't begun repairing Prius models because it is still working on its precise remedy, spokesman Brian Lyons said Tuesday.

Toyota settled on its fix for Lexus ES350, Camry and Avalon models, and those repairs are under way. The automaker says it is fixing models based on the numbers of each that are on the road, which is why it started with the Camry and ES, and will start Prius repairs later.

Lyons said Toyota is "not in a position" to disclose the timing or the exact fix for the Prius -- or whether Toyota is considering any new solutions, beyond those outlined in November.

But he said Toyota plans to have the remedies in place for all recalled models this year. Toyota has advised drivers to remove floormats in the 2004-09 Prius and other recalled vehicles as an interim solution.

On Monday, a California Highway Patrol officer helped a motorist on Interstate 8 slow a Prius from more than 90 mph to a stop, after the accelerator pedal got stuck.

"I was laying on the brakes but it wasn't slowing down," said motorist James Sikes, who told reporters his accelerator pedal got stuck as he was going 94 mph in his 2008 Prius.

"I won't drive that car again, period."

Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are investigating the incident, near San Diego in El Cajon, Calif.

The vehicle was towed to a dealership and will be examined by federal investigators.

NHTSA "is gathering details on yesterday's incident involving a recalled Prius that accelerated out of control," Transportation Department spokeswoman Olivia Alair said. "Two investigators are flying out to California to examine the car and look for potential causes."

Toyota last month recalled 133,000 2010 Prius vehicles and 15,090 Lexus 2010 HS 250h vehicles in the U.S. to update software to address complaints about anti-lock brakes. NHTSA has gotten more than 1,100 complaints on braking issues with the third-generation Prius.

The recalls have spawned a series of congressional hearings on how Toyota and NHTSA responded to the recalls and vehicle complaints; another was announced Tuesday.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee said it will consider NHTSA's future at a hearing Thursday. In a memo to committee members, committee aides raised NHTSA's staffing and funding challenges.

The committee noted that the number of investigators in NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation has dropped from 119 in the 1970s to 57 today. But the Obama administration has proposed adding at least eight more investigators.

Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, will testify, as will NHTSA administrator David Strickland and former NHTSA administrator Joan Claybrook.

Meanwhile, several analysts said Toyota could face up to $3 billion in legal costs from more than 80 class action lawsuits nationwide stemming from the worldwide recalls of 8.5 million vehicles. A panel of federal judges will hold a hearing on March 25 to decide if all of the cases should be held in one venue.

Toyota is also working to respond to numerous demands from Congress for information.

From The Detroit News:


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