- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Toyota said Thursday it is evaluating brake problems with the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid, but no decision has been made about a recall.

Earlier Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it opened an investigation into the car, the best-selling hybrid in the U.S., citing 124 reports it received from consumers about its brakes, including four crashes. The government is looking into complaints that anti-lock brakes can fail momentarily on some 2010 models in slippery conditions or on rough roads.

The company says it made a change in the 2010 braking system last month to correct cars in production. The company has not made a decision about cars on the road.

Asked whether Toyota would recall the 2010 Priuses, spokesman Brian Lyons said: “It’s too soon to call at this point. We will of course fully cooperate with NHTSA in that investigation.”

Mr. Lyons also said Toyota is checking other hybrid models in its lineup to see if they have the same braking system as the 2010 model, but so far he is not aware of any other models being involved.

The U.S. investigation, while preliminary, represents another setback for Toyota, which has been battered with two major recalls in the U.S. covering millions of vehicles. Those involve gas pedals that can get trapped under floor mats or become stuck on their own and fail to return to the idle position. The safety probes have challenged Toyota’s long-standing reputation for building safe, quality vehicles.

The Prius was not part of the recall spanning the U.S., Europe and China over sticking gas pedals in eight top-selling models including the Camry. That recall involved 2.3 million cars in the U.S. alone.

The Prius is the best-selling hybrid in the U.S. and the world, and is Toyota’s third-best-selling vehicle domestically, behind the Camry and the Corolla. Toyota sold nearly 140,000 Priuses in the U.S. last year.

NHTSA said investigators have talked to consumers and conducted pre-investigatory field work. The preliminary evaluation involves about 37,000 vehicles in the U.S.

“Safety is our top priority,” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. NHTSA said Mr. LaHood spoke with Toyota president Akio Toyoda late Wednesday and was assured by the executive that Toyota was taking the safety concerns seriously.

Toyota said it would fully cooperate with NHTSA’s investigation.

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