Japan Orders Toyota to Investigate Prius Brake Complaints

Posted: Feb 03, 2010 10:00 a.m.

Toyota dealers may have been forced to stop selling eight of their most popular models, but at least they’ve got one hot seller left that no one has questioned, right? The iconic Prius was left out of the recent recall over possibly defective gas pedals. The Prius, however, may have other safety problems -- and once again, a government has had to force Toyota to take them seriously.

The New York Times reports, “The Japanese government said Wednesday that it has ordered Toyota to investigate a possible defect in its new Prius hybrid model after receiving 14 reports of brake trouble, another blow for an automaker already embroiled in its biggest-ever recall.” According to Kenji Sato, a Japanese government Transport Ministry official responsible for enforcing recall policy, “Drivers complained that the brakes on Toyota’s newest Prius momentarily stopped working at low speeds, especially on slippery surfaces.”

The Prius was entirely redesigned for the 2010 model year, and the investigation applies only to the Prius sedans of the new design. The regenerative brakes of the 2010 Prius are not like those of a conventional car, or even like those of previous editions of the Prius. The Times reports, “Regenerative braking is a technology that allows the car battery to be recharged with energy taken from the wheels when the brake is engaged. Regenerative braking is particularly useful in boosting a hybrid car's efficiency in stop-and-go city traffic.”

The brake investigation is sure to win heavy media coverage because of Toyota’s recent high-profile safety recalls, but Jalopnik cautions, “Despite everything going on with Toyota, and all the apparent reticence on their part to address safety issues, it's important to recognize investigations happen all the time.” Still, the news can’t be good for beleaguered Toyota. After all, the company’s negative publicity has grown so prominent that, Jalopnik notes, “The Daily Show just launched their new feature: Toyotathon Of Death!” 

And, for Toyota owners, the threat of losing Prius sales is powerful. The Times notes, “The Prius is the best-selling car in Japan, and the popularity of the Prius had been a bright spot in a global auto industry still reeling from the bankruptcies of General Motors and Chrysler.”

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