Toyota Motor Corp. Prius Vehicle Images As The Company Recalls Most Priuses Ever Sold to Fix Software Flaw

Toyota, the world's largest automaker, will recall more than half of the Prius vehicles ever sold to fix a software glitch that could slow down or bring the car to a halt. (Kiyoshi Ota / Bloomberg)

Toyota Motor Corp. on Wednesday announced a massive global recall of its popular Prius hybrid to fix a software glitch that could cause the car to stall.

The Japanese automaker also launched a recall of about 260,000 RAV4 sport-utility vehicles, Tacoma trucks and Lexus RX350 SUVs sold in the United States to address a separate issue.

The Prius recall includes 1.9 million vehicles sold from 2010 through 2014 model years.

It involves about 1 million cars in Japan, some 700,000 in North America and the rest from Europe and other regions.

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Toyota said it will update software in the electronic controls of the car.

The software’s current settings could create heat in some of the transistors in the circuits of the car, damaging the parts.  When this happens, warning lights on the dashboard activate. In rare circumstances, the hybrid system might shut down while the vehicle is being driven, creating a sudden stall.

The automaker said it knows of no accidents or injuries resulting from the problem.

Toyota sold more than 234,000 Priuses in the U.S. last year, making it one of the top-selling passenger cars.  It is the most sold vehicle of any type in California, even the nation’s top-seller, the Ford F-150 pickup.

In the other recalls, Toyota will update software on certain 2012 RAV4s, 2012-2013 Tacomas, and 2012-2013 Lexus RX350 models in order to address an electronic circuit condition that can cause the vehicle stability control, antilock brake, and traction control functions to intermittently turn off.

“Toyota is trying to be more transparent, and is more aggressive than other automakers with recalls.  But it doesn’t seem to be that big of deterrent for consumers,” said Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with auto information company Edmunds.com. 

“I don’t think there is that big of an impact from something like a software update,” Caldwell said. “It is not a recall where there are crashes or people are dying.”

Toyota recalled nearly 5.3 million vehicles in the U.S. last year, more than any other automaker, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Japanese automaker topped Chrysler Group, which came in second by calling back almost 4.7 million vehicles.

Overall, automakers recalled almost 22 million cars last year, NHTSA said. That was 34% higher than the previous year and the most since 30.8 million vehicles were recalled in 2004, according to agency.

This latest recall comes as the automaker is negotiating a settlement of a four-year federal criminal investigation into whether it properly reported safety complaints about incidents of sudden acceleration in its vehicles to safety regulators.

Toyota confirmed the talks, issuing a statement that it "continues to cooperate with the U.S. attorney's office in this matter. In the nearly four years since this inquiry began, we have made fundamental changes to become a more responsive and customer-focused organization, and we are committed to continued improvements."

The settlement could include a fine of as much as $1 billion.

The automaker did earn some kudos for its automotive prowess Wednesday.

Lexus was named the most reliable car brand in the 2014 J.D. Power & Associates Vehicle Dependability Study, which examines the reliability of cars three years into their life.

It was ranked the most dependable brand for the third consecutive year.

Vehicles produced by Toyota’s luxury brand had just 68 problems per 100 vehicles. That was almost half the average of 133 problems per 100 vehicles.

Toyota-branded cars also did well, logging 114 problems per 100 vehicles. It ranked sixth, along with two others, out of 31 brands.

[For the record, 4:52 p.m. PST Feb. 12: A previous version of this post said the Lexus was ranked the third most dependable brand for the third consecutive year and that Toyota-branded cars logged 113 problems per 100 vehicles and ranked eighth out of 31 brands.]

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