TOKYO -- Toyota will recall 270,000 Prius hybrid vehicles over brake problems in the United States and Japan, a report said Friday, while the beleaguered auto giant launched an investigation into possible problems with the brakes in its luxury Lexus hybrid.
The recall would affect the new Prius hybrid model, and Toyota Motor Corp. would soon notify Japan's transport ministry and the U.S. Department of Transportation of the recall, Japan's top business newspaper, Nihon Keizai, said Friday.
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Japanese public broadcaster NHK also said Toyota was considering a recall of Prius hybrids in the U.S. and Japan.
"The Prius really have been the jewel in their crown for the last five or six years," said John Austin, with John Austin Associates.
He added: "It's tough to see anything that's held in such high regard take such a hit like that."
But the Minneapolis-based communications expert who's dealt with the auto industry for years believes it's critical for Toyota to communicate quickly with their customers.
"They have to say we understand that this is a serious matter, something that's been worrisome for you. We're sorry for that, here's what we're doing to set it right, here's where you can go for more information," Austin said.
Meantime, drivers are already preparing to deal with the Prius' possible recall.
Beth Langer planned to sign up for the brand new HOURCAR program based at the University of St. Thomas. But the program would be using two 2010 Prius models -- the very cars that may be recalled.
"It's a little bit of a bummer that they're having problems," Langer said, continuing: "but it sounds like Toyota's got it under control."
Takayuki Fujimoto, a transport ministry official, said the government has yet to receive a recall notice from Toyota. Toyota cannot announce a recall in Japan until it notifies the ministry.
Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said Friday that Toyota had not yet decided whether to recall the Prius.
"Nothing has been decided on whether we will recall or not," Takeuchi said.
The new Prius hybrid went on sale in Japan and the United States in May 2009. More than 170,000 of the new Prius models have been sold in Japan, with around 103,000 sold in the U.S. since May.
Toyota, reeling from massive global recalls of 4.5 million vehicles involving faulty gas pedals, acknowledged Thursday design problems with the brakes in its prized Prius.
Complaints about braking problems in the Prius -- the world's top-selling gas-electric hybrid -- have been reported in the U.S. and Japan, combining to some 180.
Takeuchi said Toyota has launched a probe into the luxury Lexus HS250h hybrid model for possible brake problems in Japan and the United States as the vehicle uses the same brake system as the new Prius hybrid.
"We want to ensure safety for our customers," Takeuchi said. Toyota has not received any complaints about the Lexus HS250h, she said. The luxury HS250h went on sale in Japan in July 2009, and September last year in North America.
Toyota said Thursday it had corrected problems with the antilock brake system in the new Prius models sold since late last month, including those shipped overseas.
But the company said it was still deciding what steps to take to fix the problem in Prius cars sold in Japan and overseas before late January.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)