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Toyota Admits Prius Brake Problem; No Plans for Recall Yet

Posted: Feb 04, 2010 11:10 a.m.

Under pressure from two governments, Toyota has admitted that it knows of a problem with the braking system in its popular 2010 Prius hybrid. The company says it has already begun to fix the problem in new cars rolling off assembly lines, but has not yet decided whether to recall vehicles already sold to perform the same fix. The admission comes as the company faces a barrage of negative publicity, and possible government fines, for its slow reaction to reports of faulty accelerator pedals in eight other Toyota models.

The AP reports, “Toyota acknowledged that is has begun fixing problems with the brakes in its prized Prius, but remains undecided about a recall, adding to the catalog of safety woes — and muddled responses — at the Japanese automaker.” The company says it was aware of the braking issue with the Prius, and had already begun correcting the problem in cars coming off assembly lines, several weeks ago. A company spokesman “said Thursday that Prius models sold since late last month, including those shipped overseas, had the problem with the antilock brake system corrected.”

The Prius, like most hybrid cars, has two separate braking systems. A regenerative braking system uses a form of engine braking, reversing the spin of the car’s electric motor, to slow the vehicle. In addition, traditional friction brakes at the wheels function like they do in most cars. Autoblog explains, “Long story short, the Prius…can apparently experience a short, temporary loss of braking during the transition between the two on slick or bumpy surfaces.” Toyota says that the brief period of transition, when the driver can step on the brake pedal but neither brake system engages, “usually lasts under a second.”

At 60 mph a car travels 88 feet in one second.

The problem, Jalopnik reports, is “a software issue.” The company “changed the software in January so new Prius hybrids don't have the problem.” But those shipped from the factory in Japan prior to late January do have the problem. 

The company has not yet decided whether to recall the Prius sedans to fix the braking issue. Toyota Managing Officer Hiro Yuki Yokoyama told CNN, “We would want to be given a little time” before deciding whether a recall was necessary. 

Both U.S. and Japanese officials are investigating the issue themselves. CNN reports, “The Japanese government has warned Toyota to take seriously mounting complaints with the Prius. Toyota Vice President Shinichi Sasaki met with Japan's transport minister on Wednesday.” 

The U.S. government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has opened its own investigation of the matter. Edmunds Inside Line reports that the NHTSA “says it has also received some 100 complaints about ineffective brakes in the Prius, reportedly including two related to accidents in which there were injuries.”

If the agency determines that a recall is necessary, Toyota’s failure to order one when it first discovered the problem might compound the company’s troubles. Automotive News reports, “Toyota Motor Corp. faces a possible multimillion-dollar federal fine for failing to issue timely recalls of defective vehicles” over the accelerator pedal issue, “a U.S. Transportation Department official said today.”

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