Paul Horrell09 February 2010

Toyota recall: now it’s the Prius

Enviro-friendly hybrid recalled because of brake problems

Toyota Prius

The saintly Prius has been dragged into the Toyota recall vortex.

It seems that in certain circumstances the ABS system gives too much kickback through the brake pedal. Drivers tend to think this means braking action is delayed. It isn't - if they don't lift their foot they'll find the brakes work as normal.

But a software re-flash of the affected cars will change the feedback in the circumstances in question, and everyone should be happy.

It affects only the Mk3 Prius, and only the first few months' production. Brand-new ones are fine.

That's because Toyota recognised the issue some while ago after some customer comments. It modified the software on Priuses built after a certain date. Older cars will now get a simple upgrade to this new software.

There was no recall at the time. Toyota didn't think it was a safety issue - the brakes always work fine. But I guess Prius drivers aren't the type to habitually drive right up to the ragged edge, so they don't know what ABS intervention feels like. When they experience it, they're spooked.

And now, because everything Toyota says and does is viewed through the lens of ‘safety' and ‘recalls', the company has to be super-cautious. It gets badgered by the media if it doesn't act. In normal circumstances this wouldn't be a recall.

Seen from the outside, Toyota seems to be having a PR catastrophe. But remember, the company has built its business on loyal customers. It has just taken delivery of its first batch of redesigned accelerator parts from the main accelerator recall. This has taken just days. It has made contact with owners, again in days.

Most recalls take months. And it's not as if recalls are unusual. There are about a million recalled cars in the UK each year.

Dealers and the HQ have been working overnight and at weekends. It's a mammoth effort, and it's directed not at finessing the media but at fixing the cars. People who buy Toyotas trust Toyota and its dealers. That's where they choose to get their information, not from scare stories in the tabloids.

Toyota is trusting that this will be the way to ensure the damage of the recalls - both to the customers and to its own reputation - gets healed rapidly.

Paul Horrell

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