UPDATED: Friday, April 13, 2012 - 9:53am
JAPAN - Toyota was facing more unwanted publicity Saturday after the world's biggest automaker said it was voluntarily calling in about 10,000 pickups in North America, the latest in a series of recalls.
The Japanese giant has recalled millions of vehicles worldwide in past months due to problems linked to accelerator and brake functions, sullying the company's safety reputation.
The latest vehicle cast into the spotlight is the 2010 model of Tacoma four-wheel drive pickups in the North American market, including 8,000 in the United States and 1,500 in Canada.
The voluntary recall was to inspect their front drive shafts, which may include a component that contains cracks that developed during the manufacturing process, the company said.
Earlier global Toyota recalls covered models with "sticky accelerators" that can cause cars to race out of control, a defect cited in several deadly crashes, and later widened to brake system problems in the Prius and other hybrid models.
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.
The Tacoma recall came as the company suspended production of two hybrid models — the Sai sedan and the Lexus HS250h — in Japan on Saturday as it develops a fix for those vehicles' faulty brakes.
Embattled Toyota president Akio Toyoda on Saturday visited a Tokyo dealer where Prius repairs were underway.
"It will be absolutely okay from now on," the scion of the founder family assured as he deeply bowed to a couple who brought their Prius in for a software fix.
Japanese media have said Toyoda is prepared to testify at US congressional hearings if he is formally asked to do so, with the automaker facing intense pressure in the United States over the rash of recalls.
Outspoken Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara accused the United States of using Toyota's safety troubles to "bash" Japan because of jealousy of the Japanese automotive industry's fast rise.
Amid accusations in the US that Toyota had been slow to respond to safety concerns, President Barack Obama warned all carmakers that their brands were at risk if they dragged their feet on safety recalls.
In his first public remarks on Toyota's deepening defect crisis, 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, which went on sale Friday.