updated 6/1/2005 3:43:40 PM ET 2005-06-01T19:43:40

Following published reports of engines stalling without warning, the government said Wednesday it has opened an investigation of Toyota's hot-selling Prius hybrid sedan.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the preliminary investigation will involve about 75,000 cars of the 2004-2005 model years.

Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. said in a statement that it was “an early stage inquiry to determine if further analysis is warranted, not a recall.”

The company said it was cooperating with NHTSA and would provide the agency with the complete results of its internal investigation.

The Prius has been a hugely popular model in the United States, leading to long wait lists. Automotive experts have said it is the first economy car with a higher resale value.

No warning before shutdowns
Hybrid vehicles deliver better mileage by switching between a gasoline engine and an electric motor. Toyota Motor Corp. leads in hybrid sales, with cumulative global sales of 381,500.

The agency said it has received 33 complaints of alleged engine stalling. The majority of the complaints involved reports of the engine stalling at speeds of 35 miles per hour and 65 mph.

Some of the complaints indicated that the vehicle was operated in electric mode for some period after the gas engine stalled, NHTSA said.

All of the complaints reported that the engine shut down without warning and about half of the complaints said that when the engine shut off, the vehicle would not restart and required the vehicle to be towed.

Toyota executives noted there has been no reported cases of deaths or injuries from the engine problems.

Analyst unfazed
The investigation will not likely cool off sales or shorten waiting lists for the Prius, said Lindsay Brooke, a senior analyst with CSM Worldwide, a Michigan-based auto industry forecasting and analysis firm.

Brooke said since its release in 2000, the Prius’ performance has been “exemplary” and many industry observers have been surprised that there hasn’t been any major technological problems with the advanced vehicle.

“It’s a tribute to Toyota that they built so many of them with really no problems thus far,” Brooke said.

NHTSA investigations sometimes lead to vehicle recalls.

Toyota officials said last month they were investigating complaints about the Prius stalling. More than 88,000 2004 and 2005 Prius cars have been sold in the United States.

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