Toyota said Wednesday that it will recall a line of luxury Lexus sedans in the United States and Japan to fix a computerized steering problem.
The recalls will affect 4,500 Lexus "LS" vehicles in Japan and the 3,800 2010 "LS" models that Toyota has sold in the United States. The line is Toyota's top-priced luxury sedan brand, and includes the "LS 600h" hybrid.
The world's largest automaker, battered by a series of high-profile safety recalls in recent months, said consumers have complained of steering wheels that came off-center during certain driving maneuvers, out of alignment with the directon of the car's wheels. Toyota received 12 complaints in Japan, but said it knew of no accidents caused by the problem. The company has sold about 7,000 Lexus "LS" sedans outside of Japan, including the 3,800 in the U.S., 150 in Europe and 800 in China, with others sold in areas such as the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Australia.
After being hit with a record $16.4 million fine in the U.S. and facing strong government criticism both at home and abroad for slow responses to safety problems, Toyota Motor Corp. is working to react more quickly. The company on Tuesday paid the fine in the U.S., where it still faces hundreds of state and federal lawsuits.
The latest issue involves a computerized system that oversees how the steering wheel controls the tires. The steering system comes standard in Japanese models, but is optional in some other regions. It varies the amount that the steering wheel turns the tires on a car, allowing drivers to turn the wheel less at low speeds when attempting to navigate or park in tight spots and providing finer control at high speeds.
The system can take "a few seconds" to return the steering to normal after it has been adjusted, which led to complaints from drivers, said Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco.
He said Toyota is preparing to conduct a recall in Japan soon, but wasn't sure of the exact timing. The U.S. recall is expected Friday.
The company is looking to demonstrate it can respond rapidly to problems in its cars. Toyota is currently facing a new investigation by authorities in the U.S. because it waited a year to recall vehicles there after a similar recall in Japan, despite dozens of reports of problems from American drivers.
Toyota quickly recalled about 10,000 Lexus SUVs in April in the U.S. after Consumer Reports magazine put a "Don't Buy" recommendation on them for failing an emergency handling test. The magazine lifted the warning after the recall, which applied to about 34,000 vehicles worldwide.
Toyota has recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for safety defects affecting some of its best-selling models. The U.S. Transportation Department is reviewing thousands of Toyota documents and could issue new penalties for the company's handling of other safety recalls.
The recalls have prompted the first major review of U.S. auto safety laws in Congress since tire recalls by Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. in 2000.
Toyota's top U.S. sales executive, Jim Lentz, will testify in front of Congress Thursday that the automaker believes faulty electronics are not to blame for unintended accelerations in its vehicles that led to massive recalls.