Toyota faces new woes with Tacoma truck recall

WASHINGTON: Toyota is facing new woes with another recall -- this time involving its Tacoma pickup trucks -- after US President Barack Obama warned carmakers not to drag their feet on beefing up vehicle safety.

Toyota said it was voluntarily recalling 8,000 of the 2010 model Tacoma four-wheel drive pickups in the United States to inspect the front drive shaft.

"The front shaft in these vehicles may include a component that contains cracks that developed during the manufacturing process," said a statement by Toyota Motor Sales, USA.

"As those vehicles are used, the cracks may eventually lead to the separation of the drive shaft at the joint portion," it added.

The Tacoma trouble is the latest embarrassment for the world's biggest automaker, which has recalled millions of vehicles in past months due to problems linked to accelerator and brake functions.

Those recalls cover models with "sticky accelerators" that cause cars to race out of control, a defect cited in several deadly crashes, and has widened to brake system problems in the Prius and other hybrid models.

In his first public remarks on Toyota's deepening defect crisis, Obama warned carmakers their brands were at risk if they dragged their feet on safety recalls.

Obama noted that Toyota was now under federal investigation over its recalls but predicted the company, which has supplanted the bailed-out US giant General Motors as global industry leader, would recover from its present troubles.

"Every automaker has an obligation when public safety is a concern to come forward quickly and decisively when problems are identified," Obama said in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek magazine, due to go on sale Friday.

"We don't yet know whether that happened with Toyota. That's going to be investigated," he said.

"My hope is that, moving forward, all automakers recognize that their brands are at stake when it comes to safety issues."

Obama said the Japanese giant was likely to recover from its woes, which have left the company staring at recall-related costs of at least two billion dollars and triggered a plunge in its share price.

The Tacoma pickup shafts were built by supplier Dana Corp from December until early this month, a US government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Dana told the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, a government agency, that it was going to handle the shaft recall on vehicles built for automakers Ford, Toyota and Nissan, the official said.

This was "because they had discovered a defect in their manufacturing process," the official said.

"So it looks like, out of caution, Toyota decided to submit its own recall notification to us because technically, the vehicle manufacturer is responsible for recalls."

Separately, Toyota said in a letter to US lawmakers that it would investigate complaints on the Tacoma relating to "engine idle speed changes when the vehicle is stopped and high idle speed when the engine is cold."

Also to be probed were complaints on "cruise control downshifting behavior, engine speed changes when shifting (manual transmission) and lurching when a vehicle is coming to a stop."

Amid the series of recalls, Toyota said Friday it was studying the possibility of a new override system to deactivate engines as an extra safety layer in emergency situations.

"Toyota is considering adding a multiple tap function to the start/stop button for vehicles produced in the future," said Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons.

The fix could make it easier to turn off engines in cases of accelerator malfunctions in cars with keyless ignition systems.

On Friday a US woman filed a federal lawsuit in Los Angeles against Toyota, blaming the company for the death of her husband when the Prius she was driving suddenly accelerated.

Jacquelyn Donoghue, a 67-year-old nurse, alleges in the suit that her car suddenly sped up and ploughed into another car when she was driving home with her husband in December, and that a brake-to-idle override could have prevented the crash.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda meanwhile is prepared to testify at US congressional hearings if he is formally asked to do so, a report by Kyodo news agency said in Tokyo Friday.

The report cited company officials, who said Toyota was hoping that if Toyoda appeared in person at the hearings it would help revive trust in its vehicles amid growing criticism of the company in the United States.