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Toyota failed to correct Prius defect, lawsuit says

Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

LOS ANGELES -- After Toyota issued a 2016 recall to fix a key electronic component on its Priuses, one of California's largest dealers said the cars were still coming in after overheating and leaving drivers stranded in traffic.

Toyota said the problem on model years 2010-14 had been taken care of with a software change.

But having seen more than 100 post-recall failures, Roger Hogan -- whose family owns Claremont Toyota and Capistrano Toyota -- warned customers about the issue and refused to resell used Priuses he'd gotten as trade-ins. Today, he has 70 of the cars, worth $1 million, parked at his dealerships.

Last year, Hogan filed a lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court alleging that the Prius hybrid system has an unresolved safety defect that could leave cars without power. And he filed a complaint with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's office of defect investigations, telling the agency in a Dec. 14 letter that "there are lives needlessly at risk."

"Our responsibility begins and ends with our customers' safety," said Hogan, former president of the Southern California Toyota Dealers Assn., who has owned Toyota sales lots for nearly a quarter of a century.

In a statement Tuesday, Toyota officials rejected Hogan's allegations.

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"We believe Mr. Hogan's complaint is entirely without merit, and we intend to defend vigorously against his inaccurate and misleading allegations," the company said. "Our focus remains on the safety and security of our customers."

Hogan filed his suit, which alleges breach of contract and fraud, in Orange County Superior Court last July and amended the allegations in November. Toyota sought to have the case thrown out on legal grounds, but Judge Peter Wilson ruled in December that it could go forward and set a trial for January 2019. The existence of the suit has not been previously reported.

Toyota officially recognized a problem in the hybrid system on Feb. 12, 2014, when it filed a voluntary recall with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It acknowledged a defect that could cause overheating in a device called an inverter, which controls high power transfers between the battery and the vehicle's two electric motors.

The inverter boosts the battery's 200 volts to about 500 volts to drive two electric motors, and converts the electricity from direct current to alternating current (similar to what comes out of a household outlet). When the car brakes are applied, the power flow reverses to charge the battery.


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