Tokyo, Japan - Toyota has announced a global recall of 1.9 million Prius hybrid cars - including 231 in South Africa - because of a fault that could cause the vehicle to slow down suddenly, in the latest safety blow to the Japanese auto giant.
The company said it decided on the call-back - the biggest for the eco-friendly Prius - after the discovery of problems with software used to control a power converter that posed a risk to drivers.
A Tokyo-based company spokesman said: “We do consider this a potential safety issue because, in the worst case, the car could stop while driving, and that's the reason why we are implementing this recall.”
“No accidents have been reported as a result of the defect.”
Toyota said in most cases the defect could set off a vehicle's warning lights and “probably” cause it to enter “failsafe mode”, in which the car can still be driven but with reduced power.
“It would slow down, eventually to stop,” a spokeswoman added.
Toyota, a leader in the production of environmentally friendly cars, said it was aware of more than 400 cases of the problem, including 300 in Japan and 90 in North America.
The recall covers about 997 000 vehicles in Japan with another 713,000 vehicles in North America. Most of the remainder are in Europe, the Middle East, and China.
Toyota SA spokesman Leo Kok told IOL Motoring the recall affected only new-generation 1.8-litre Prius models, and involved no more than a software upgrade. Toyota SA would contact buyers of new Prius cars as soon as the software upgrade - which would be carried out free of charge - became available, he said, which should be “fairly soon”.
Owners of seconds or third-hand Prius’ should contact their nearest Toyota dealer, he advised, and their details and those of their cars, so they could be reached when the software upgrade became available.
The company recalled Prius models last year and in 2010 for different problems, but Wednesday's announcement marked the biggest call back for a car that Toyota has bet will lead a bigger move to green cars.
The problem is the latest for Toyota and other Japanese automakers that have recalled millions of vehicles in recent years, damaging their long-held reputation for quality and safety.
In October, a US court found Toyota was not to blame for a fatal crash involving claims of unintended acceleration, a case that sparked huge global recalls and badly dented the company's reputation. But weeks later, the automaker lost a related court case in which it was found at fault for a fatal accident.
$1.1 BILLION SETTLEMENT
Toyota earlier agreed to pay the equivalent of about R12 billion to settle a class action lawsuit launched by US vehicle owners affected by the series of mass recalls.
The company did not accept any blame but agreed to compensate owners of about 16.3 million vehicles who said their value had been reduced because of the recall.