Toyota Motor Corp. stopped the sales of 2009-10 high-end Lexus LS 460 and LS 600h sedans Monday because of an electronics problem that can cause steering wheels to fall out of alignment, the company said.
On Friday, Toyota recalled 11,500 of the vehicles — including nearly 4,000 in the U.S. — already in customers’ hands.
The sales stoppage and recall cover cars equipped with the company’s variable gear ratio steering system that’s an option on the LS 460 and standard on the LS 600h.
Sales stoppages over safety concerns are rare in the auto industry, but in January Toyota ordered dealers to stop selling eight of its best-selling models after reports of unintended acceleration. That sales halt, called because the company had no remedy for the problem, lasted about two weeks.
The Lexus sales stoppage is expected to last longer. Toyota does not have a solution to the Lexus problem, which can cause the steering wheel to get stuck in a turned orientation even though the car is going straight, company spokesman Brian Lyons said. The steering wheel, however, can still be used to steer the car.
He said Toyota did not expect to have a remedy developed until late June. The company said it received one customer complaint in the U.S. and 12 in Japan because of the problem. No accidents related to the issue have been reported.
Owners of the cars — which have a starting price of about $65,000 for the LS 460 and $108,000 for the hybrid LS 600h — will be receiving official notice of the recall in the mail next month as well, Lyons said.
“The owners of the affected LS sedans will be the first to receive the remedy for the steering problems — they’ll be the priority,” he said. “After that we’ll fix any LS models that need to be repaired that are sitting on the dealer lots.”
In the meantime, Toyota is not advising LS owners to park their cars. “Lexus believes that involved vehicles are safe to drive,” the company said in an online consumer guide.
“In some cases the steering wheel can be 90 degrees out of alignment with the wheels of the car,” Lyons said. “But the problem has only been reported in instances of a very tight and very quick turn.”
In all reported cases, he said, the steering wheel realigned itself after about 5 seconds of driving straight.
The Lexus’ steering troubles are the latest in a string of safety problems for Toyota, which has recalled more than 8 million vehicles within a year.
“This will hurt the perception of Lexus in terms of safety,” said Bruce Harrison, an auto analyst with IHS Global Insight. “But I think people are beginning to get numb to the idea that Toyota and Lexus cars can have problems and recalls, whether they associate the brands together or not.”