Toyota to recall 437,000 hybrids

TOKYO - 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.

"I apologise for causing trouble and worries for many customers over the quality and safety of Toyota," President Akio Toyoda said at a press conference last night in Tokyo.

"We sincerely acknowledge safety concerns from our customers," he said. "We have decided to recall as we regard safety for our customers as our foremost priority."

The recall is the latest blow to Toyota, which is in the midst of recalling more than seven million vehicles worldwide because of problems with floor mats, which can trap accelerator pedals, and faulty accelerator pedals that are slow to return to the idle position. The Prius wasn't part of those recalls.

There have been about 200 complaints in Japan and the US about a delay when the brakes in the Prius were pressed in cold conditions and on some bumpy roads.

The delay doesn't indicate a brake failure. The company says the problem can be fixed by reprogramming the software that controls the braking system.

Toyota officials went to Japan's Transport Ministry earlier yesterday to formally notify officials the company is recalling the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid - the world's top-selling hybrid car.

The automaker is also recalling two other hybrid models in Japan, the Lexus HS250h sedan, sold in the US and Japan, and the Sai, which is sold only in Japan.

The 223,000 cars being recalled in Japan include nearly 200,000 Priuses sold from April last year until this Monday. The Prius is Japan's top-selling car.

In the US, Toyota will recall 133,000 Prius cars and 14,500 Lexus HS250h vehicles. The Prius is also being recalled in Europe.

Toyoda has been criticised for being largely invisible during the two weeks after the company announced the accelerator pedal recall in the US, Europe and China.

He apologised at his first public press conference on Saturday, but was criticised by the Japanese media for failing to outline concrete steps to tackle the safety crisis.

Speaking in English at the end of his statement last night, Toyoda said: "We will redouble our commitment to quality as a lifeline of our company. We will do everything in our power to regain the confidence of our customers."

The Prius is not Toyota's top-selling model in the US but it holds a cherished spot in its lineup and is symbolic of Toyota's leadership in the "green" car market.

Problems with hybrid braking systems haven't been limited to Toyota.

Ford said last week it plans to fix 17,600 Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion hybrids because of a software problem that can make drivers think the brakes have failed.

- AP

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