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2009/2010 Toyota Corolla Pending Recall For Steering Problems

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WASHINGTON • Adding to its growing woes, Toyota Motor Corp. said it is considering recalling the popular Corolla because of potential steering problems.

The possible recall was announced at a news conference in Tokyo on Wednesday, where company executives also said that all future Toyota vehicles would include a brake-override system to provide an extra measure of safety in the event of sudden acceleration.

Toyota has issued about 10 million recall notices worldwide, mostly for floor mats that can entrap the gas pedal and a gas pedal that can stick, which it has blamed for causing unintended acceleration.

Although the Corolla has a different issue, it would add to the company's deep business and public relations problems, as well as increase concerns by U.S. officials about the safety of Toyota vehicles and the responsiveness of company executives to consumer complaints.

Separately, U.S. officials plan to inform the automaker as early as today that they are launching an investigation into steering problems with 2009 and 2010 Corollas amid complaints from some drivers that they were having trouble controlling their vehicles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has received about 150 complaints about the vehicle's steering system. The NHTSA investigation would involve 363,000 Corollas from the 2009 model year and 136,000 from 2010, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who could not elaborate because Toyota had not been formally notified of the inquiry.

Shinichi Sasaki, Toyota's executive vice president, said Toyota is waiting on information from the NHTSA before it takes action on the Corolla. The company is aware of fewer than 100 complaints and is trying to narrow down the causes, he said.

In December, the NHTSA began investigating whether the electronic control module in some Corolla and Matrix models could cause the cars to stall without warning.

The Corolla steering inquiry would represent the fifth open investigation of a Toyota vehicle by the NHTSA, not including the documents they asked for Tuesday about previous recalls.

The agency is looking into the engine stalling issue, as well as complaints about the electronic stability control of the 2003 Sequoia, frame corrosion in the 2000 and 2001 Tundra and recent problems with the brakes on the Prius hybrid.

Toyota sold almost 1.3 million Corollas worldwide last year, including nearly 300,000 in the United States. The Corolla trailed only Toyota's Camry as the second-best-selling car in the U.S. last year, according to Autodata Corp.

The company already is facing a major backlash for its delay in a broad recall of vehicles for sudden acceleration problems.

At the news conference in Tokyo, company President Akio Toyoda said he does not plan to personally address those issues on Capitol Hill — at least not yet. He said Wednesday he would not travel to Washington next week for congressional hearings.

Toyoda expressed full confidence in Toyota's North American chief, Yoshimi Inaba, who he indicated will attend a hearing on the recalls by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24.

Toyoda said Inaba has his "highest personal trust" and is "qualified to respond to the questions of congressmen."

"We will give our full support to those at the hearings," Toyoda said.

But that might not be enough for Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House oversight committee. Towns did not comment on Toyoda's announcement. But a committee aide said a subpoena to force Toyoda to testify was an option.

The panel's top Republican, Rep. Darrell Issa of California, had supported a subpoena last week. But he predicted Wednesday the committee would not force Toyoda to testify.

Also Wednesday, Towns and Issa wrote major auto insurance companies, asking whether they had seen a series of claims from unintended acceleration incidents involving Toyota products. The letters went to Geico, State Farm Group, Progressive Group, Allstate Insurance and Farmers Insurance Group.

Last week, State Farm Insurance said that it had received numerous inquiries about alleged unwanted acceleration problems in Toyota and Lexus vehicles in recent years and notified federal officials of the problem three years ago.
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