Toyota Chief Apologizes for Recalls, Says No Decision on Prius Yet

Toyota’s chief executive apologized today for the problems behind the company’s recent decision to recall millions of vehicles because of reports of sudden acceleration, and said he would be heading up a committee to improve quality control at the besieged car company. However, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda said his company is still trying to decide what to do about thousands of Prius hybrids with potentially faulty brakes.

In the past several months, Toyota has recalled roughly 8 million vehicles around the world because of sudden acceleration problems. In September 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that Toyota was recalling and replacing floor mats on approximately 4.2 million vehicles which were allegedly causing accelerator pedals in the vehicles to become stuck in the depressed position, leading to uncontrollable and rapid acceleration of the vehicle. The vehicle models recalled in September included the he 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 IS250/IS350.

Then last month, Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. due to accelerator pedals on those vehicles becoming stuck in a depressed position, causing unexpected and unsafe acceleration. Toyota dealers are expected to start fixing the defective accelerator pedals this weekend. The automaker also suspended sales and production of the eight models involved in the January recall. Those models were the 2009-2010 RAV4, 2009-2010 Corolla, 2009-2010 Matrix, 2005-2010 Avalon, certain 2007-2010 Camrys, 2010 Highlander, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2008-2010 Sequoia.

At a news conference this morning in Japan, Toyoda, the grandson of the automaker’s founder, tried to reassure consumers that Toyota’s cars are safe. According to a CNN report, the chief executive was not afforded the usual deference the Japanese media usually grants to corporate executives in that country. Instead, some reporters asked Toyoda pointed questions about a lack of leadership at the company, and wanted to know why he was dodging questions. Toyoda has recently been criticized for his lack of public appearances during the recall crisis, CNN said.

Despite assurances that Toyota vehicles were safe, not many answers were provided for Prius owners. As we reported earlier this week, brakes on some Prius hybrid vehicles had temporarily stopping working on bumpy or slippery roads. Toyota has been investigating braking problems on the third generation Prius launched in May, and said yesterday that brakes on some Prius vehicles had a design flaw. The automaker acknowledged that it had changed the software for cars produced since January, and it is looking into what to do with the vehicles already on the road.

According to the NHTSA, it has received 124 reports from consumers about the Prius brakes, including four reports of crashes. The NHTSA said yesterday that it had opened a formal investigation into the Prius brake issue. The preliminary evaluation involves about 37,000 vehicles in the U.S., the agency said.

Yesterday, several media outlets in Japan reported that Toyota would be recalling 270,000 Prius vehicles over the brake issue, but that has not happened yet. At this morning’s news conference, Toyoda said his company is still investigating the Prius brake issue and said a decision on a recall would be announced as soon as possible.

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