Toyota recalls U.S. Priuses in 2.77M global recall

Toyota's own faulty specifications led to Wednesday's recall of 670,000 older Prius hybrids in the U.S. for potentially defective steering, the automaker acknowledges.

And about 350,000 of those same Priuses also were recalled Wednesday for water pumps that could cause the cars to stall. Water Pump For Toyota Prius

Toyota recalls U.S. Priuses in 2.77M global recall

The steering problem "is a design-related issue -- insufficient hardness on the specification," says Brian Lyons, Toyota's spokesman for safety issues in the U.S.

The two U.S. recalls are part of larger global actions for these problems that cover nearly 2.8 million vehicles of various models.

The U.S. actions cover all second-generation Priuses (which are those built from August 2003 through March 30, 2009). The latest version of Prius isn't affected, Toyota says.

Toyota says it has no reports of accidents or injuries due to the problems. But the news is embarrassing because Prius is an icon, standing for the company's technical expertise.

The Wednesday recalls come just a month after Toyota recalled 7.4 million cars globally -- including 2.5 million in the U.S. -- for power-window switches that could catch fire if incorrectly lubricated.

The actions also are an uncomfortable reminder that beginning in 2009, Toyota had to recall 12.4 million cars globally -- 10.2 million in the U.S. -- for sticky gas pedals and floor mats that could jam accelerators. Those recalls followed complaints and crashes, some fatal.

Toyota acknowledged back then, too, that potentially faulty accelerator pedal mechanisms were, in fact, built to its specifications by Indiana component supplier CTS. Toyota changed the design to prevent future problems.

Joel Sutherland, head of the Supply Chain Management Institute at the University of San Diego, cites "quality fade" as a likely villain. That's when parts built at first are spot-on, but then an automaker cuts back on inspecting supplier parts to save money, and quality drops. "That's a huge problem," he says.

A recall can tarnish a company's image, but isn't always a lingering problem.

"I don't necessarily see this as a negative thing," says analyst Jessica Caldwell. "After 2010, we demanded Toyota be transparent and proactive in recalling vehicles and now they are -- along with most other manufacturers. In terms of perception, the long-run benefits of a commitment to safety and quality will outweigh any short-term backlash."

The steering component involved in the Wednesday action, called an intermediate shaft, is supplied by two different companies. Japan-based Jtekt made the questionable shafts, though not all from that maker are faulty, Lyons says.

"One supplier built above-and-beyond, one (Jtekt) built right to the specification," he says. Normal manufacturing variations and tolerances, though typically small, mean some Jtekt units were below the already iffy Toyota specification, while others were OK.

The design has since been changed, and no current-generation Priuses -- beginning with the 2010 model year -- are affected, Lyons says.

Splines, or ridges, on the insufficiently hard steering shafts can wear and deform, causing noisy steering and in extreme situations -- such as holding the steering wheel completely to the right or left, as in a tight parking spot -- the car can feel as if it has lost steering, Lyons says.

But the shaft doesn't break, and the steering continues to work despite the defect, he says.

The steering parts all were made prior to when Toyota's top executive, Akio Toyoda -- testifying before the U.S. Congress in February 2010 during the unintended-acceleration recalls -- said that the automaker had lost its way and let quality slip as it tried to get too big too fast. The company would re-establish safety as a higher priority than sales, Toyoda said then.

The separate water pump recall Wednesday is to fix Priuses' electric pumps that circulate water to cool the hybrid system and batteries. If the cooling fails, the "check engine" light illuminates and, in the worst cases, the entire powertrain shuts down to avoid overheating the hybrid system, and the car stalls.

In the problem pumps, faulty electrical wiring can corrode, causing more resistance in the circuit, triggering the dashboard light or potentially blowing a fuse.

Owners will be officially notified by Toyota starting next month. In the steering recall, Toyota dealers will inspect the shaft and replace it if needed. The inspection and repair will take about an hour. For the cooling recall, dealers will replace the hybrid system's water pump, a job that Toyota says takes about two hours.

Toyota recalls U.S. Priuses in 2.77M global recall

Bmw E90 Electric Water Pump In addition to Prius, the remaining vehicles in the recalls involve models or versions of models sold overseas, including the Wish, Corolla (including Run-X, Fielder and Spacio variants), Isis, Allex and Will VS.