US to probe Prius brake problem; Japan orders Toyota to investigate

More than 100 US drivers have complained to a federal agency about a Prius brake problem; Japanese drivers have filed 14 complaints. Toyota's woes deepen.

By , Correspondent

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    Toyota Motor Corp's third-generation Prius is displayed at a showroom in Tokyo Wednesday.
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In the wake of its massive global recall earlier this year, Toyota is facing more braking problems, this time with its iconic 2010 Prius hybrid.

US drivers have filed more than 100 complaints with the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) about weak and inconsistent braking on bumpy roads and slippery surfaces.

“I have been driving my 2010 Prius for 6 months and have experienced the following nearly 10 times,” wrote one driver on NHTSA’s complaint database. “When braking, if a pothole or bump in the road is hit, the car seemingly jerks forward/accelerates for a split second.”

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US officials will investigate complaints about Prius braking problems, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Wednesday at a Christian Science Monitor breakfast with reporters.

The Japanese government, on Wednesday, also said it has ordered Toyota Motor Corp. to investigate the problem, in response to 14 complaints related to Prius braking problems filed in Japan.

The Prius braking complaints come on the heels of one of the largest automotive recalls in history. Toyota recalled 7.6 million vehicles globally in January, and suspended sales and production of eight vehicle models, due to problems with sticking gas pedals.

It’s unclear if the alleged Prius braking problems are related to the sticky gas pedals associated with the earlier recall. Hybrid vehicles use a different braking system than most nonhybrid vehicles. In addition to standard brakes that work by generating friction from pads pressed against drums or rotors, hybrid cars use their electric motors to help slow the vehicles and to recharge their batteries.

Toyota’s US sales slid 16 percent in January as a result of the January sales suspension and recalls.

Prius is Toyota’s third best-selling model in the US, after the Camry and Corolla models. Some analysts worry that the Prius problems will further mar Toyota’s image.

“The Prius is Toyota’s flagship model, its key to the future,” said Ashvin Chotai, managing director of London-based Intelligence Automotive Asia Ltd., in Business Week. “If that model gets tainted, that would suggest Toyota’s crisis has moved on to the next level.”

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