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Toyota set to recall Prius: Japanese report

On alert: Brake control software was changed on Toyota Prius hybrids on the production line last month.

Global Prius recall on the cards after Toyota admits change to brake software

Toyota logo5 Feb 2010

TOYOTA is preparing to recall 270,000 of its third-generation Prius hybrids to fix brake-control software after customer complaints of inconsistent brake pedal feel on uneven surfaces, according to Japanese reports.

Toyota Australia spokesman Mike Breen told GoAuto today that the local branch had not been officially advised by Toyota Motor Corporation of any such recall on the 1700 Prius Mk III cars sold in Australia since its local launch in July, but would issue an immediate announcement if one was made.

“We only heard the reports at six o’clock this morning and have been trying to contact TMC for further information, but right now we have not received any advice of a recall,” he said.

Mr Breen confirmed that a “small number” of complaints had been received from Australian customers concerned about the brake pedal feel, which was different to the previous Prius.

Mr Breen stressed the issue was not one of safety, as the Prius would still stop in the required distance.

“If you continue to hit the brake hard, the car will come to a stop in the normal distance,” he said.

“What they are saying is that in the third-generation Prius, there was a small change in the software that changed the feel of the brake pedal on certain surfaces and certain conditions such as ice or snow or bitumen or whatever.

“That feeling is different to what it was in the previous generation. So there is no actual condition with the brakes – the brakes are still effective and they still do what they should do.”

8 center imageLeft: Prime minister Kevin Rudd with the Toyota Camry Hybrid, which is to be launched next week.

Toyota said in Tokyo that it had made a running change to the brake software on cars coming off the production line in Japan since January, and that the fix could be made to cars by dealership service “on a case-by-case basis” if customers complained that they were not comfortable with the feel of their brakes.

The company did not advise existing customers, however – an admission that brought a swift response from officials in both the US and Japan, where the latest Prius topped the sales charts on a number of occasions last year.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last night launched a formal investigation into the Prius complaints after Toyota admitted that it had made the software change, apparently to improve the brake operation when the car’s anti-lock braking system (ABS) kicks in.

Japan’s Ministry of Transportation also reportedly has ordered Toyota to look at the problem.

The Japanese business newspaper Nikkei subsequently reported that Toyota would launch a voluntary recall in Japan and the United States to fix the problem, which follows in the wake of a recall of nine million cars in the US, Asia and Europe over “unintended acceleration” issues involving floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals.

No cars have been recalled in Australia for the acceleration issue, but as the Prius is essentially the same car as sold in Japan, any recall there would almost certainly trigger a similar recall in this country.

In the case of the Prius, Toyota says some customers have reported an inconsistent feel in braking on potholes, slippery surfaces or bumps.

The issue is complicated by the hybrid Prius’s regenerative braking system which uses the car's electric motor-generator to help brake the vehicle, thereby converting the forward motion into electricity.

When the brake pedal is depressed, the electric motor that helps to drive the vehicle under acceleration switches to generator mode, using the drag of its magnets to slow the vehicle as it simultaneously creates electricity for later use, storing it in the car's nickel-metal hydride batteries.

The Toyota hybrid also has conventional disc brakes that step in under heavy braking to ensure safety, with ABS kicking in if the tyres slip.

The Prius issue seems to concern the transition from regenerative braking to normal braking and then ABS braking.

For Toyota Australia, the issue could not have reared its ugly head at a worse time, just days ahead of the media launch of its new locally-made Hybrid Camry.

However, Mr Breen said there had been no reports of similar brake feel issues with Hybrid Camry, and the launch would proceed as planned.

Ford Motor Company also has problems of its own with hybrids in the US, where it has recalled 2010-model Ford Fusion Hybrids and Mercury Milan Hybrids to update software of the regenerative brake system.

Neither Ford vehicle is sold in Australia.

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