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Toyota Announces Global Prius, Lexus HS Recall

Posted: Feb 09, 2010 10:35 a.m.

After a week of discussion, Toyota has announced a worldwide recall of its 2010 Prius and Lexus HS250h hybrids in order to correct a braking defect.

The AP explains, “Toyota says it is recalling about 437,000 Prius and other hybrid vehicles worldwide to fix brake problems -- the latest in a string of embarrassing safety lapses at the world's largest automaker.”  The announcement means that “the number of vehicles recalled globally by Toyota Motor Corp. has ballooned to 8.5 million, including for floor mats which can trap gas pedals and faulty gas pedals that are slow to return to the idle position. The 2010 Prius wasn't part of the earlier recalls.”

The company may briefly stop building the cars, which are built in Japan.  Reuters reports, “The Nikkei business daily said that Toyota may halt production.”

Repairs begin in Japan tomorrow, while American Prius and HS owners should expect to hear from the company soon.  The Los Angeles Times reports, “In the U.S. the company will send letters to owners of the 2010 Prius and Lexus cars beginning next week to let them know to bring their vehicles into dealerships.”  The actual fix shouldn’t take Toyota technicians long – no mechanical repairs are required.  The correction is a simple software update.

The AP reports, “The company says the problem can be fixed in 40 minutes with new software that oversees the controls of the antilock brakes.”

The Prius, and its Lexus cousin, each have two separate braking systems.  One is a regenerative braking system, which reverses the spin of the car’s electric motor to slow the vehicle gradually, recharging the car’s battery in the process.  The other is a set of antilock brakes in the wheels, much like traditional cars, which are used for heavier braking.  In slippery conditions, however, the car can hesitate to switch between the two systems, leading to a delay of about one second when the driver is pressing the brake pedal but neither set of brakes is engaged.  The delay is brief, but at 60 mph, the car would travel 88 feet in one second.

The company, the AP says, has received “about 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S.” relating to the problem. 

Investors were encouraged by the decision.  Reuters reports, “Shares in Toyota, which lost about a fifth of their value since late January, were up 1.7 percent” this morning on news of the recall.

But worries about the company’s reputation may have pushed the company into the recall.  “Analysts said fears of an even bigger consumer backlash prodded Toyota into recalling the Prius,” according to the AP.

But not everyone is convinced the company can repair its damaged reputation quickly.  James Ellis, dean of the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, told the LA Times, “They just have not addressed this fast enough. This should have been just a typical recall.”

Check out the latest Toyota recall news and information, including how the company's recent troubles affect our rankings. If you're in the market for a new car, check out the U.S. News rankings of this year's best cars as well as this month's best car deals