Toyota recall spreads to Prius and beyond

Toyota is recalling 437,000 Prius and other hybrid cars worldwide to fix brake problems — the latest embarrassing safety defect for the world's largest automaker.

Toyota is recalling about 437,000 Prius and other cars worldwide to fix brake problems — the latest in a string of embarrassing safety problems for the world's largest automaker.

Company president Akio Toyoda made the recall announcement Tuesday in Tokyo.

"I apologize for causing trouble and worries for many customers over the quality and safety of Toyota," Toyoda said at a news conference.

A Prius hybrid appears on display at the Toyota museum in Japan. ((Itsuo Inouye/Associated Press))

"We sincerely acknowledge safety concerns from our customers," he said. "We have decided to recall as we regard safety for our customers as our foremost priority."

Also being recalled are two other hybrid models — the Lexus HS250h sedan and the Sai, a sedan sold only in Japan.

In Canada, roughly 3,300 Prius models fall under the latest recall. Owners will be contacted shortly, the company said.

Only 2010 Prius models produced since May 2009 and all HS250h vehicles are subject to the recall. First- and second-generation Prius vehicles use a different ABS system and are not involved in the recall, Toyota Canada said.

There have been nearly 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S. of drivers experiencing a short delay in braking response, a problem that can be fixed with a software programming change.

Probe widens

Meanwhile, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is widening the investigation into Toyota, after receiving 76 complaints about the electric power steering in 2009 and 2010 model Corollas.

The body is probing dozens of complaints that the vehicle's steering wanders at 65 km/h and up.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in a statement Tuesday that Toyota's leaders have assured him they are taking safety concerns "very seriously."

The statement said LaHood's agency will stay in constant communication with Toyota to hold the company to its promise.

The braking problem on the Prius and the steering questions on Corollas are the latest safety woes for Toyota, which is already trying to fix problems in millions of vehicles recalled for other defects, including a sticky gas pedal and faulty floor mats.

The brake problem specifically is suspected in four crashes resulting in two minor injuries, according to data gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is investigating.

Toyota is also recalling its plug-in hybrid, a largely experimental model for rental and government use, available in limited numbers and not for mass commercial sale.

Complaints spiked in 2007

New revelations about sudden unintended acceleration in some Toyota models continue to emerge. On Tuesday, the largest auto insurer in the United States said it alerted U.S. federal safety regulators in late 2007 about a rise in reports of unexpected acceleration in Toyota vehicles.

State Farm Insurance said it noticed an uptick in reports of unwanted acceleration in Toyotas from its large customer database and warned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late 2007. NHTSA officials said the report was reviewed and the agency issued a recall later that month.

NHTSA received complaints about acceleration problems in Toyota vehicles as early as 2003, and congressional investigators are looking into whether the government missed warning signs of the problems.

The House committee on oversight and government reform said it will hold Toyota hearings on Feb. 24, the first of three congressional hearings expected to review the Japanese automaker's recall of about 8.5 million vehicles globally over brake problems, sticking gas pedals and floor mats, which can trap gas pedals.