Toyota Updates: Automaker Admits Prius Brake Design Flaw; U.S. Probe of Unintended Acceleration to Look at Electronic Throttle System

Toyota has admitted that brakes on its Prius hybrid have a design flaw, and another recall could be coming. Meanwhile, U.S. safety regulators investigating the unintended acceleration problem that prompted Toyota to recall million of cars and trucks last month have turned their attention to the vehicles’ electronic throttle systems.

Yesterday, we reported that Toyota had said it was investigating “dozens” of reports that brakes on some Prius hybrid vehicles had temporarily stopping working on bumpy or slippery roads. One such report involved a crash. Japan’s Kyodo News Agency reported that the U.S. National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (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.

According to the Associated Press, has now acknowledged Toyota d that it found design problems with the antilock brake system and corrected them for Prius models sold since late January. The automaker is still trying to figure out what do about cars already on the road, and would not rule out a recall.

According to a New York Times report, Toyota’s manager in charge of quality, Hiroyuki Yokoyama, said that new Priuses experienced “a slight unresponsiveness” of the brakes which he said could be resolved by pressing harder on the brake pedal. Yokoyama blamed the problem on the Prius’ two braking systems, saying a glitch sometimes prevented the car from transitioning smoothly between the two. This is a different stance than Toyota took only yesterday, when it said it was still studying the Prius complaints and was unsure of the cause, the Times noted.

News of the Prius brake defect came in the midst of a firestorm created by Toyota’s latest recall of cars for sudden acceleration problems. 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. Just a few months prior, in September 2009, the 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. Some vehicles were included in both recalls.

Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the U.S. investigation into the acceleration issue would expand to look at the possibility of electromagnetic interference with electronic throttle systems. According to The Wall Street Journal, electronic throttles replace mechanical links between the gas pedal and the throttle with electronic relays. As part of the probe, the NHTSA will meet with manufacturers and suppliers to gain more understanding of their electronic throttle systems and ways in which these companies address any possible interference effect, the Journal said.

The NHTSA has also come under fire for its response to the Toyota unintended acceleration issue. According to The Wall Street Journal, in a letter released yesterday, U.S. Rep. John Dingell, (D.-Mich.), pointed out that reports of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles predate the recalls by at least two years. Dingell sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is investigating Toyota.

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