300,000 hybrid vehicles recalled

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.

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