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Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Toyota ordered to investigate Prius brake fault

Toyota today suffered a fresh blow to its reputation as it emerged that the carmaker has been ordered by the Japanese government to investigate claims of brake system failures on its newest model of Prius hybrid.

As the company races to minimize the damage of problems with “sticky” accelerator pedals and massive global recalls, The Times has learned that Toyota is currently conducting an internal probe into reports of intermittent brake failures on its 2010 Priuses.

Under direct instructions from the Japanese Land and Transport Ministry, Toyota is examining 13 instances that have arisen since December 2009 where the brakes have failed on new Priuses sold in Japan and the United States.

A Toyota spokesperson admitted that the frequency of complaints arising from the same component in the same model of car was “greater than usual.”

The brake problems come on top of the worst public relations disaster in Toyota’s recent history – it has been forced to recall millions of cars due to faulty accelerator pedals.

Last August, a family of four in the US died after a Toyota Lexus apparently accelerated out of control. The Lexus model has not been involved in any of the recalls.

The Prius, a hybrid petrol and electric car, is a favourite of Hollywood’s green elite, with Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio both owners of the model.

Apple co-founder and a Toyota Prius owner, Steve Wozniak, has weighed into the spiraling safety crisis that has engulfed the Japanese automaker, with a suggestion that “unintended acceleration” problems may be caused by faulty software.

Mr Wozniak comments hint that, despite Toyota’s massive recall, the accelerator issues may be far from over.

Interviewed on American television last night, Mr Wozniak said that the 2010 model Prius he drives had occasionally accelerated unexpectedly – and “scarily” after he used the cruise control buttons to adjust his speed.

“Since my foot never touches the pedal,” Wozniak told ABC News, the problem “cannot be a sticky accelerator pedal.... There might be some bad software in there.”

At a separate forum he wondered aloud whether the software bug that caused random acceleration in his Prius might also be lurking in the software of other Priuses “and related to the deadly problem”.

He said that he had had trouble persuading both Toyota and the US government safety agency to listen to his complaints.

In a hasty bid claw back some advantage, Toyota said last night that it would be borrowing Mr Wozniak’s car for a week to diagnose the problem.

The Nagoya-based company has been accused of dithering over the decision to initiate a recall.

The company is increasingly faced with suggestions that it deliberately downplayed the seriousness of faults that have been linked to a number of accidents around the world, some of them fatal.

“While Toyota is taking responsible action now, it unfortunately took an enormous effort to get to this point,” said US transportation secretary Ray LaHood.

Despite speculation that the accelerator problems may be electronic rather than purely mechanical, Toyota has publicly ruled that out as a cause of the sticky accelerators.

But the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US is continuing to investigate the throttle control system for possible bugs. Of the 15 US-based lawsuits filed against Toyota over the acceleration issue, seven of them claim that the problem arises from the ETCS-i throttle system rather than mechanical faults with the pedals.

More than 7 million vehicles have been recalled across five continents in a campaign that crisis management experts have described as ham-fisted. Company insiders describe internal rows over whether Toyota’s president, Akio Toyoda, should appear in public to reassure customers. Since the recalls began, Mr Toyoda, the grandson of the founder, has made only one 75-second appearance in front of a single Japanese news crew at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

Financial analysts have begun building the potential costs of the recall, which now include possible fines that could be imposed by the US government. In a note to investors, Deutsche Bank’s Kurt Sanger said that the costs for repairing existing models and suspending production could amount to over Y100 billion.

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1 comment:

electric cylinders said...

they're facing lots of issues with regards to the cars they've released from before.

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