Toyota Motor Corp. has stopped all sales of its 2010 Lexus HS 250h hybrid after government tests showed it could leak fuel in a rear-end collision.
The Japanese automaker said it was also recalling roughly 13,000 HS sedans that have already been sold and 4,000 that are still on dealership lots.
A remedy for the problem has not yet been determined, Toyota spokesman Brian Lyons said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a recall filing Friday, said that the defect "could result in a fire." A similar problem in the Ford Pinto that has been blamed on 27 deaths led to one of the most publicized recalls of all time, in 1979.
Lyons said Toyota was not aware of any incidents or accidents resulting from the defect in the HS, a model that was first introduced late last summer.
The new Lexus recall is the latest in a string of safety and quality problems that have confronted Toyota since last September, when it announced a massive recall to deal with sudden acceleration. The issues have led to multiple congressional hearings, hundreds of lawsuits and a public apology from the company's president, Akio Toyoda.
And although a recall of 17,000 sedans is small in comparison with the more than 10 million recall notices issued by Toyota since September, it is notable because it was ordered by NHTSA after the regulator spotted a defect that Toyota did not find in its own testing.
As such, it mirrors a recall of the Lexus GX 460 in April, which took place after the magazine Consumer Reports unearthed a handling problem in its testing. Toyota subsequently replicated that problem on its own and announced a recall of nearly 10,000 sport utility vehicles.
Lyons said that Toyota conducted tests to verify that the Lexus hybrid was in compliance with federal safety standards before releasing the vehicle, and that no problems with the fuel tank were found.
But a crash test conducted for NHTSA by a contractor, Calspan Corp. of Buffalo, N.Y., found that after an impact from a barrier at 80 kilometers per hour, or about 50 mph, fuel leaked from the vehicle.
Because more than 142 grams of fuel spilled, the maximum allowed under federal safety rules, NHTSA notified Toyota that it was out of compliance, triggering the stop sale and recall.
The total amount of fuel spilled was not reported by NHTSA or Toyota.
According to Lyons, Toyota will attempt to replicate the Calspan test to determine why the tank leaked, which will allow it to develop a remedy. "We're still working to determine what the root cause of the condition is," Lyons said.
In February, the HS 250h was subject to a recall affecting it and the 2010 Prius hybrid for a braking problem that could extend braking distances. Toyota said it would resolve the problem by reprogramming the antilock brake software on both vehicles.
Since the first safety campaign last fall, Toyota has been forced to issue recalls of one kind or another on most of the models in its Toyota and Lexus lineup.
Although Toyota remains a profitable company, its reputation and its entire executive ranks have been threatened by the sudden-acceleration recall crisis. Last week J.D. Power & Associates released a survey showing that Toyota had fallen to 21st in initial quality, from sixth last year, its first-ever below-average score.
This week Toyota said it was replacing many of the Japanese executives running U.S. facilities with Americans, and Toyoda told the company's shareholders that he had feared he'd lose his job before the congressional hearings in February.
Lyons said Toyota informed its dealers of the stop sale Friday morning. He could not predict when the recall would take place or when dealerships could again resume sales of the HS. Once a fix is found, Toyota will notify HS drivers to bring the vehicles in for repair.
"We're working feverishly to get this resolved as soon as possible," Lyons said.