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Toyota Electronics, Prius Brakes in The Spotlight

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A U.S. probe into reports of dangerous, unintended acceleration with some Toyota vehicles has expanded to look at the vehicles’ electronic throttle system. Meanwhile, Toyota has admitted to a design flaw in the brakes on its popular Prius hybrid, and another recall could be in the works.

Yesterday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said the U.S. investigation into the acceleration issue would expand to look at the possibility of electromagnetic interference with electronic throttle systems. According to The Wall Street Journal, electronic throttles replace mechanical links between the gas pedal and the throttle with electronic relays. As part of the probe, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administraion (NHTSA) will meet with manufacturers and suppliers to gain more understanding of their electronic throttle systems and ways in which these companies address any possible interference effect, the Journal said.

As of January 2010, Toyota had recalled a total 5.3 million vehicles due to incidents of dangerous, unintended acceleration. On January 21, Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles due to accelerator pedals on those vehicles becoming stuck in a depressed position, causing unexpected and unsafe acceleration. Just a few months prior, in September 2009, the NHTSA announced that Toyota was recalling and replacing floor mats on approximately 4.2 million vehicles which were allegedly causing accelerator pedals in the vehicles to become stuck in the depressed position, leading to uncontrollable and rapid acceleration of the vehicle. Some vehicles were included in both recalls.

Yesterday, we reported that Toyota had said it was investigating “dozens” of reports that brakes on some Prius hybrid vehicles had temporarily stopping working on bumpy or slippery roads. One such report involved a crash.

According to a New York Times report, Toyota’s manager in charge of quality, Hiroyuki Yokoyama, said yesterday that new Priuses experienced “a slight unresponsiveness” of the brakes which he said could be resolved by pressing harder on the brake pedal. Yokoyama blamed the problem on the Prius’ two braking systems, saying a glitch sometimes prevented the car from transitioning smoothly between the two. This is a different stance than Toyota took only yesterday, when it said it was still studying the Prius complaints and was unsure of the cause, the Times noted.

Toyota acknowledged yesterday it had corrected the brake design flaw in Prius models sold since late January. The automaker is still trying to figure out what do about cars already on the road, and would not rule out a recall.

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