Toyota Motor Corp. said Thursday about 270,000 cars sold worldwide, including luxury Lexus sedans, have potentially faulty engines, in the latest quality issue to confront the Japanese automaker after a string of massive recalls.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the U.S. government's auto safety agency, said Toyota had not formally notified it about a recall. Japan's top-selling daily Yomiuri said the company will inform the Japanese transport ministry of a recall on Monday but the paper cited no sources.
Toyota spokesman Hideaki Homma in Japan said the company was evaluating measures to deal with the problem of defective engines that can stall while the vehicle is moving. He would not confirm a recall was being considered.
The world's largest automaker has scrambled to repair its reputation following the recall of 8.5 million vehicles around the globe because of problems with sticking accelerator pedals and gas pedals that can get trapped in floor mats.
Toyota was slapped with a record $16.4 million fine in the United States for acting too slowly to recall vehicles with defects. Toyota dealers have repaired millions of vehicles, but the automaker still faces more than 200 lawsuits tied to accidents, the lower resale value of Toyota vehicles and the drop in the company's stock.
U.S. regulators are working with scientists from NASA to investigate what caused some of the vehicles to suddenly accelerate. That review is expected to be completed by late August. NHTSA officials are also reviewing whether Toyota waited nearly a year in 2005 to recall trucks and SUVs in the U.S. with defective steering rods, a case that could lead to additional fines.
Lexus general manager Mark Templin said during manufacturing there were some contaminated materials used for valve springs in the engine, which could cause abnormal noises or rough idling. In extreme cases, Templin said the engine could stall and drivers would likely hear noises or idling before the vehicle stalled.
Templin said the engines were included in previous model years of the IS350, GS350, GS460, GS450h, LS460, LS600h, LS600hL and Toyota Crown, which is primarily sold in Japan. He said the company was still evaluating which model years were affected by the engine problems and the company would make an announcement to customers when a fix is determined.
Lexus said in a statement that approximately 137,000 vehicles could be affected in the U.S. A company official in Japan said earlier that about 90,000 vehicles with the engine problems were sold in Japan and a total of 270,000 vehicles worldwide were involved.
Lexus said it had not received any reports of accidents or injuries related to the issue. Asked whether the cars were safe, Templin said, "I'm driving one and I feel totally comfortable in it."
Toyota said it has received around 200 complaints in Japan over faulty engines. Some drivers told Toyota that the engines made a strange noise. Homma said there have been no reports of accidents linked to the faulty engines.
Toyota spokesman Ed Lewis said the company had not formally notified the U.S. highway safety agency about the issue. He could not confirm any plans for a recall in the United States.
In the aftermath of the recalls, Congress is considering an upgrade to auto safety laws to toughen potential penalties against automakers, give the U.S. government more power to demand a recall and push car companies to meet new safety standards.
Toyota said last week it will recall 17,000 Lexus luxury hybrids after testing showed that fuel can spill during a rear-end crash.
Shares of Toyota rose 5 cents to $68.62 in midday trading Thursday.