Toyota Adds 2010 Prius To Recall List
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And Im Renee Montagne.
Toyota has another recall. After days of speculation, Toyota has announced the worldwide recall of almost half a million hybrid vehicles, including its flagship model, the Prius. The news was delivered at a press conference today in Tokyo by Toyotas CEO.
NPRs Louisa Lim was at that press conference and joins us on the line to talk about it. Good morning.
LOUISA LIM: Good morning, Renee.
MONTAGNE: Toyota has recalled about eight million cars up until this latest one. What are the details of this one?
LIM: Well, this is yet another recall. This time its for four different models of hybrids. The main one is the third generation 2010 Prius produced between last May and January, after which a fix was made, and there were about 139,000 of those cars in the U.S. that will be recalled. The other models that will be recalled are the Lexus H250-S. Theres about 16,000 of those in the U.S. - the Prius Hybrid plug-in and the Sai, which is only sold in Japan. So we heard that this recall will begin tomorrow in Japan. We've heard that it can be fixed by a software fix which will only take 10 minutes. But they told us that the entire process would take 40 minutes for each car, including checking and verification.
And today at a press conference, the CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, appeared again in person, the second time in about five days, and he apologized yet again for the trouble caused and he vowed that he would redouble Toyotas commitment to quality.
MONTAGNE: And at that press conference, you heard specific details about the braking fault itself.
LIM: Thats right. Toyota described how its a problem with the anti-lock braking system. And it happens on very cold or slippery surfaces. We were told how it happens during the transition from the regenerative braking system, which helps charge the cars electric battery, to the traditional hydraulic brake. And when this happens, in some circumstances, it seems as if the cars brakes arent working just momentarily, and then they kick in. And for the first time we heard some numbers. We were told by a Toyota official that if the car is traveling at 12 miles per hour, cars with the fault will take extra 0.06 seconds to come to a halt. Now, that doesnt sound like very much, but in fact it translates to an extra stopping distance of 70 centimeters. In another press conference, the Toyota official, he asserted categorically that so far there were no accidents or injuries caused by this braking problem. And strictly looking at the numbers, they said this car still fits under the criterion designated as safe, but they decided to take this action anyway because there had been customer complaints, and that was why they went ahead with this recall.
MONTAGNE: And you were at Akio Toyodas first press conference last Friday, where he was heavily criticized for not seeming to be sorry enough. Did you notice any difference this time around?
LIM: Yes, actually, there was a big difference. First of all, in the presentation he was much better prepared. He gave a statement in English and there was another official with him who gave a PowerPoint presentation with lots of figures and graphs. It was very technical indeed, but it showed exactly what went wrong, and there was also - it was just not presentation, there was a difference in mood as well. The last time, Toyota seemed to be floundering and on the defensive. This time, he kept saying he was determined to face the problem head on, and indeed the press. And he said he would be making a trip to the U.S. to meet press and consumers there.
He talked about setting up some more offices for technical analysis in the U.S. And, of course, this comes at a time when Toyota has just launched this new commercial campaign with one minute spots on American TV, saying they are determined to fix problems, and Toyoda himself wrote a piece in the Washington Post today. So it does seem as if Toyota is adopting a new PR strategy. They have moved away from the last strategy, which was pretty much characterized as duck and dive and was so heavily criticized.
MONTAGNE: And just finally, Louisa, this is the first Toyota recall in Japan during this crisis for the automaker. How is it likely to be received there?
LIM: Well, interestingly, in terms of share price, Toyota shares have been doing much better. They had lost about a fifth of their value since this crisis began, but today they recovered a bit and finished up almost three percent. And analysts say that could be due to relief that Toyota's finally seemed to be tackling this problem head on.
MONTAGNE: Louisa, thanks very much.
LIM: Thanks, Renee.
MONTAGNE: NPRs Louisa Lim reporting from Tokyo.
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