Toyota to recall 270,000 cars over engine fault

TOKYO (AFP) – Toyota Motor said Friday it will recall 270,000 vehicles worldwide because of an engine fault affecting cars including its luxury Lexus range and Crown sedans, in the latest blow to its reputation.

A Lexus model is seen in Toyota Motor's showroom in Tokyo on July 1, 2010. AFP

Toyota said faulty valve springs in certain engines could potentially lead to affected vehicles stopping while in operation.

The automaker said it would submit its recall notice to Japan's transport ministry on Monday, with the latest action affecting 90,000 units in Japan and 180,000 overseas.

"We will go ahead with the overseas recall according to the regulations of each country involved," said Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi, adding that details of affected countries would be made available later.

"The recall is due to defective parts of valve springs, which may result in abnormal noise or idling. In a worst case, the engine could stop," Takeuchi said.

The world's largest automaker has been hit by a series of safety recalls and has pulled around 10 million vehicles worldwide since late last year.

Toyota's announcement comes as the company looks to improve its recall process following heavy criticism of the way it handled safety issues in the United States that have been blamed for more than 80 deaths.

The company said that the defective 4.6-litre V8 and 3.5-litre V6 engines had been installed in eight top line models including some hybrids -- the Lexus GS350, GS450h, GS460, IS350, LS460, LS600h and LS600hL as well as Crown sedans. Toyota said it had not received any reports of accidents or injuries related to the issue.

While smaller than earlier recalls, the fact that the latest problem affects Toyota's luxury Lexus brand is a serious blow to the company's already battered reputation, said Tatsuya Mizuno, auto analyst at Mizuno Credit Advisory.

"It has renewed uncertainties surrounding the company," he said.

"The recall may bring a psychological impact as this has happened to its most luxurious models, which Toyota offered to customers with full confidence."

He added that the recall "may dampen consumer sentiment on its cars at a time when Toyota is still struggling to recover while it faces class action lawsuits in the United States."

Toyota paid a record 16.4-million-dollar fine to settle claims it had hidden gas pedal defects in the United States, and US officials have refused to rule out the possibility of more fines as they review thousands of internal papers.

More than 200 federal and around 100 state cases have been filed against the carmaker for alleged design flaws dating back to 2002 when a computerised system was installed to manage acceleration.

The federal cases have been consolidated into one class action case.

Toyota has moved to reshape its global operations as part of efforts to regain consumer confidence, boost quality control and speed up its detection of potential problems involving its products.

The automaker returned to the black in the fiscal year ended March and forecast surging profits despite the millions of recalls that it estimated would cost 180 billion yen (two billion dollars) for the period.

Toyota shares were flat in Tokyo trade Friday.

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