Toyota Faces Recall Fallout, Reports of Prius Brake Problems

Toyota is facing more trouble today. According to various media reports, U.S. regulators are considering imposing civil penalties against Toyota over its response to reports of unintended acceleration with some of its vehicles. Meanwhile, the automaker announced today that it has received “dozens” of complaints about problems with brakes on its popular Prius model.

As of January 2010, Toyota had recalled a total 5.3 million vehicles due to incidents of dangerous, unintended acceleration. On January 21, Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles due to accelerator pedals on those vehicles becoming stuck in a depressed position, causing unexpected and unsafe acceleration. Vehicles included in this recall are 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 IS250/IS350. In addition to the recall, Toyota suspended sales and production of the eight models.

Just a few months prior, 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 vehicles. That recall involved the 2007-2010 Camry, 2005-2010 Avalon, 2004-2009 Prius, 2005-2010 Tacoma, 2007-2010 Tundra, 2007-2010 Lexus ES350 and 2006-2010 IS250/IS350.

Toyota has said the floor mat and accelerator pedal recalls are not related, but some vehicles were included in both.

According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement yesterday that Toyota could face regulatory action over its response to the sudden acceleration issues. “While Toyota is taking responsible action now, it unfortunately took an enormous effort to get to this point,” LaHood said. “We’re not finished with Toyota and are continuing to review possible defects and monitor the implementation of the recalls.”

The Wall Street Journal is also reporting that the Department of Transportation is considering assessing Toyota a civil penalty. Also, at least two congressional committees are scheduled to hold hearings into the Toyota sudden acceleration problems this month.

Meanwhile, Toyota said yesterday that it had received reports that brakes on some Prius hybrid vehicles had temporarily stopping working on bumpy or slippery roads. One such report involved a crash.

According to MarketWatch, Toyota said that “dozens” of such instances had been reported as of the end of last year from Japan and North America. Japan’s Kyodo News Agency is reporting that the U.S. NHTSA had received more than 100 complaints over the problem concerning Prius models released last year, while Dow Jones Newswire quoted Japan’s transport ministry as saying it had received 13 complaints in two months about the brake problem.

A Toyota spokesperson told Kyodo that the Prius brake claims hadn’t been confirmed but that the company was “currently investigating this problem.”

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