Hybrid Car – More Fun with Less Gas

Toyota admits Prius had a braking problem

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Posted by JLA on February 4, 2010, 10:17 pm
 


Toyota has received a lot of negative publicity for its sticking
accelerator
pedal and floormat recalls, and now brake problems with
the Prius can be
officially added to the list. While there were
reports of some serious concern
about the brakes in the best-selling
hybrid, Toyota has now admitted that there
are indeed known problems
with the car's anti-lock braking system.

A Toyota
spokesperson said on Thursday that Prius models sold before
the end of January
have this brake system design problem, but that
the problem has been corrected
on models sold since then, according
to the Associated Press. The announcement
follows Japanese and U.S.
officials ordering the company yesterday to
investigate around 180
claims of braking problems in the 2010 Prius.

The
Japanese automaker's explanation for what causes the braking issue
seems right
in line with the possible explanation we posited
yesterday. Long story short,
the Prius has both a regenerative and
friction braking system, and can
apparently experience a short,
temporary loss of braking during the transition
between the two on
slick or bumpy surfaces. Toyota calls it a "slight
unresponsiveness" and it usually lasts under a second.

While 20042009 Prius
models are included in Toyota's floormat recall
and none are affected by the
sticking accelerator pedal recall, the
new third-generation model had remained
above the fray completely
until yesterday. And while a recall to fix the brake
issue on these
models has not been announced yet, it is being considered.

The
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told The Associated
Press it has
received 124 reports from consumers, including four
reports of crashes. The
investigation will look into allegations of
momentary loss of braking capability
while traveling over uneven road
surfaces, potholes or bumps.

The Japanese
government has ordered Toyota to investigate brake
problems. The automaker said
it had corrected problems with the
antilock brake system in Prius models sold
since late last month,
including those shipped overseas.

The flaw requires a
software programming change to fix.

Toyota acknowledged design problems with
the brakes in its prized
Prius, adding to the catalog of woes for the Japanese
automaker as it
reels from massive gas-pedal recalls in the U.S.

Toyota Motor
Corp. said Thursday it found design problems with the
antilock brake system and
corrected them for Prius models sold since
late January, including those being
shipped overseas.

But the company said it was still investigating how to inform
customers who had bought them earlier. Nothing was decided on that
front for
Prius gas-electric hybrids sold outside Japan, according to
Toyota.

Complaints
about braking problems in the Prius the world's
top-selling hybrid have been
reported in the U.S. and Japan,
combining to some 180, and come amid a global
recall of nearly 4.5
million vehicles for faulty gas pedals.

"We are
investigating whether there are defects in the
Prius," Toyota executive Hiroyuki
Yokoyama told reporters at the
automaker's Tokyo headquarters.

Paul Nolasco, a
company spokesman, said the time lag for brakes
kicking in felt by drivers stem
from the two systems in a
gas-electric hybrid the gas-engine and the electric
motor.

When the car moves on a bumpy or slippery surface, a driver can feel a
pause in the braking when the vehicle switches between the traditional
hydraulic
brakes and the electronically operated braking system, he
said.

The brakes
start to work if the driver keeps pushing the pedal, but
the driver may
momentarily feel they aren't working, he said. Fixing
that included a software
programming change, he said.

Whether a recall was in the works for the Prius is
still undecided,
according to Toyota, but the transport minister urged the
company to
consider it and is ordering an investigation.

A major Toyota
dealership in Tokyo said the automaker had informed
dealers that Prius brakes
can sometimes fail to work for less than a
second but it had not told owners.

"It is disappointing because the Prius was receiving such rave
reviews," said
Hiroyuki Naito, a manager at the dealership. The
latest model Prius hit
showrooms last May and is only made in Japan.

In recent weeks, the automaker
had answered questions about its
overseas recalls for gas pedals with assurances
that problems didn't
extend to Japanese vehicles, implying it was doing a better
job with
quality control in Japan.

But Prius owners were worried.

Akira
Suzuki, 25, who makes surf boards and teaches surfing, was
excited about the
high mileage his recently purchased hybrid offers
but concerned about its
possible problems.

"I'm not sure how safe it is. I plan to drive very
carefully," said Suzuki, who lives in a Tokyo suburb.

Despite snowballing
problems with quality, Toyota reported Thursday a
$.7 billion profit for the
October-December quarter, citing healthy
sales of its green models including the
Prius, and predicted it would
return to profit for the fiscal year through
March.

Toyota shares tumbled on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, falling 3.5 percent
to close at 3,280 yen ($6) after plunging 5.7 percent the previous
day. Since
Jan. 21, when the U.S. recalls were announced, the stock
has lost about 22
percent.

Earlier in Washington, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood
startled the public with a comment, which he later retracted, that
Americans
should park their recalled Toyotas unless driving to
dealers for accelerator
repairs.

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.

Toyota senior managing
director Takahiko Ijichi defended the
automaker's quality standards.

"We have
not sacrificed the quality for the sake of saving
costs," he said. "Quality is
our lifeline. We want our
customers to feel safe and regain their trust as soon
as
possible."

Toyota for the first time gave an estimate of the costs of the
global
gas-pedal recall. The $ billion total represents $.1 billion for
repairs and $70 million to $80 million in lost sales.

Toyota is expecting to
lose 100,000 in vehicle sales because of the
recall fallout 80,000 of them in
North America.

The tarnishing of the Prius nameplate is also a serious setback
for
Toyota's recovery from the global auto slump.

"It's very unclear what the
future will bring," said Mamoru
Katou, auto analyst with Tokai Tokyo Research.
"Toyota's image
as a leader in hybrids has been hurt."

The automaker has
received 77 complaints in Japan about braking
problems for the Prius.
Separately, the Japanese government confirmed
14 complaints. About 100
complaints over Prius brakes have been filed
in the U.S.

At least one accident
has been reported in Japan suspected of being
linked to faulty braking. In that
accident, in July 2009, a Prius
crashed head on into another car, slightly
injuring two people,
according to the transport ministry.

Toyota had looked
into that accident and concluded there were no
problems with the Prius.

In the
U.S., harried dealers began receiving parts to repair defective
gas pedals in
millions of vehicles and said they'd be extending their
hours deep into the
night to try and catch up. Toyota said that would
solve the problem which it
said was extremely rare of cars
unaccountably accelerating.

Toyota is set to
face additional questioning from U.S. congressional
and other government
investigators. Toyota has shut down several new
vehicle assembly lines and is
rushing parts to dealers to fix
problems with the accelerators, trying to
preserve a reputation of
building safe, durable vehicles.

The latest recall
involves 2009-10 RAV4 crossovers, 2009-10 Corollas,
2009-10 Matrix hatchbacks,
2005-10 Avalons, 2007-10 Camrys, 2010
Highlander crossovers, 2007-10 Tundra
pickups and 2008-10 Sequoia
SUVs.

U.S. lawmakers who are now digging into the
recalls say they would
look into the Prius.

Many consumer groups have
questioned whether Toyota's gas pedal fix
will work and have asserted it could
be connected to problems with
the electronic throttle control systems.

Yasuaki
Iwamoto, auto analyst with Okasan Securities in Tokyo, said
the big challenge
for Toyota was rebuilding its damaged brand,
especially in overseas markets.

"For all people who own Toyota cars, for all people with jobs
related to Toyota,
this huge sense of uncertainty simply isn't going
away," he said.
 
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