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Toyota Prius brake issues prompt U.S. Transportation Dept. investigation

Toyota Motor Corp., troubles have heightened. The U.S. Transportation Department has begun an investigation into brake problems in the 2010 Toyota Prius after the Japanese automaker acknowledged design issues with the country’s best-selling gas-electric hybrid.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told The Associated Press it has received 124 reports from consumers, including four reports of crashes.

The investigation will look into allegations of momentary loss of braking capability while traveling over uneven road surfaces, potholes or bumps.

The Japanese government has ordered Toyota to investigate brake problems. The automaker said it had corrected problems with the antilock brake system in Prius models sold since late last month, including those shipped overseas. The flaw requires a software programming change to fix.
The automaker, already reeling from massive global recalls involving faulty gas pedals in other cars and trucks, said Thursday that Prius models sold since late last month, including those shipped overseas, had the problem with the antilock brake system corrected.

But that still leaves the potential flaw in Priuses sold in Japan and overseas before late January. And while Japan’s transport minister urged Toyota to consider a recall of the Prius — the world’s top-selling gas-electric hybrid — and said he is ordering an investigation into the brake problem, Toyota executive Hiroyuki Yokoyama said the company hasn’t yet decided whether a recall is necessary.

Toyota acknowledged the brake problem while reporting a $1.7 billion profit for its October-December quarter.

The remodeled gas-electric Prius hybrid went on sale in the U.S. and Japan in May 2009. Complaints about braking problems in the Prius have been reported in the U.S. and Japan.

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