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Toyota Issues Worldwide Recall of 2010 Prius

Toyota says it is recalling about 437,000 Prius and other hybrid cars worldwide to fix brake problems - the latest in a string of embarrassing safety problems at the world's largest automaker.

Company President Akio Toyoda made the recall announcement at a news conference Tuesday in Tokyo.

"We have decided to recall as we regard safety for our customers as our foremost priority," Toyoda said.

The recall is of the 2010 Prius gas-electric hybrid that went on sale last year. Also being recalled are two other hybrids - the Lexus HS250h sedan and the Sai, which is sold only in Japan, the AP said.

In the U.S., Toyota will recall 133,000 Prius cars and 14,500 Lexus HS250h vehicles. Nearly 53,000 Priuses are also being recalled in Europe. Toyota is suspending production of the Sai and Lexus HS250h in Japan until updated software for those models is ready.

There have been about 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S. about a delay when brakes in the Prius - the world's best-selling hybrid car - were pressed in cold conditions and on some bumpy roads. The delay doesn't indicate a brake failure. The company says the problem can be fixed in 40 minutes with new software that oversees the controls of the antilock brakes.

If drivers experience a delayed reaction when depressing the brakes, they should keep pressing, according to Toyota and Japan's transport ministry.

Prius repairs will start in Japan on Wednesday. U.S. owners will start receiving letters about the recall next week.

The problem is suspected in four crashes resulting in two minor injuries, according to data gathered by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which is investigating the matter. Toyota says it's cooperating with NHTSA's investigation.

Problems with hybrid braking systems haven't been limited to Toyota.

Ford said last week it plans to fix 17,600 Mercury Milan and Ford Fusion gas-electric hybrids because of a software problem that can give drivers the impression that the brakes have failed. The automaker says the problem occurs in transition between two braking systems and at no time are drivers without brakes.

The Prius recall will slice the iconic vehicle's value and could hurt Toyota's reputation even more than two other, bigger recalls for sticking gas pedals.

Toyota has said it made running changes on Priuses in production to improve the brakes but did not modify those already on the road.

Prius was not involved in the two recent Toyota recalls of nearly 6 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix separate problems that could cause gas pedals to stick open.

The first congressional hearing on stuck pedals in Toyotas is Wednesday.

"This is a much bigger deal than the other recalls. Prius is a signature model, a symbol of the brand," says Paul Argenti, communications professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business. Argenti, a crisis communications specialist, says Toyota's reputation will take at least a year to repair because it didn't immediately determine how to fix the throttles and seems slow in addressing Prius brakes. If its executives fumble before Congress or make other blunders, he says, "You begin to wonder if they can bring it back at all."

With the Prius announcement, the number of vehicles recalled globally by Toyota has ballooned to 8.5 million, including for floor mats that can trap gas pedals, and faulty gas pedals that are slow to return to the idle position. The 2010 Prius wasn't part of the earlier recalls.

"I don't see Toyota as an infallible company that never makes mistakes," President Akio Toyoda said at Tuesday's press conference. "We will face up to the facts and correct the problem, putting customers' safety and convenience first."

He said he planned to go to the U.S. soon to talk with American workers and dealers to bring the ranks together.

Kelley Blue Book, which estimates market values for used cars, says a Prius recall will pare 2 percent from the cars' used values.

KBB says it will slice 1.5 percent from other used Toyotas starting Friday, after cutting 1% to 3% last Friday.

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