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Toyota to Recall 320,000 Priuses

Times Staff Writer

Toyota Motor Corp. said Tuesday that it planned to begin a global voluntary recall of nearly 320,000 of its hot-selling Prius gasoline-electric hybrid sedans to repair a potentially faulty steering system component.

The campaign will involve about 170,000 vehicles sold in the U.S., said spokesman Sam Butto of the Japanese automaker’s Torrance-based U.S. sales unit. That represents about two-thirds of the 268,000 sold since the hybrid’s introduction here in July 2000.

Toyota, noting that no accidents or injuries had been reported, said it would begin sending letters in mid-June to owners of 2004 through early 2006 models of the popular hybrid. The company asked that owners wait to make service appointments until they received notices because not all Priuses were involved.

Although motorists generally view recalls as a black eye for an auto company, “when an extremely strong brand sees a problem and fesses up right away to the problem, it generally is a positive thing,” said Dan Gorrell of San Diego-based market researcher Strategic Vision Inc.

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“This shouldn’t hurt Toyota at all,” he said. “They will spin it as something they did even before anyone told ‘em to.”

Priuses built after November 2005 and sold as 2006 models will not be affected by the recall because Toyota changed suppliers and the later models don’t have the faulty component, Butto said.

The recall also covers eight other Toyota models -- none sold in the U.S. -- that use the same steering system. In all, Toyota is recalling 986,000 vehicles, more than half of them in its home market, the company said in a statement issued in Japan.

The Prius recall does not involve any of the car’s propulsion system components but a potentially understrength piece of the steering shaft assembly that could loosen or crack.

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Toyota said no owners in the U.S. had complained about the fault, which was discovered in vehicles sold in Japan.

The part can fail if the steering wheel is turned forcefully to the locked position at low speed or if a front tire strikes a curb or other solid obstacle while the car is in motion.

Owners will be asked to take their cars to a local dealer for diagnosis and repair once they receive the formal recall notice. Repairs will be done at no cost to owners, Butto said.

The company directed owners to its national customer service line at (800) 331-4331.


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