Toyota rocked by more safety woes

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Toyota Thursday announced safety tests on all its sport-utility vehicle models in a sweeping effort to reassure buyers.

The move came after United States Consumer Reports magazine warned against buying the 2010 Lexus GX 460 in Toyota's latest public relations debacle.

Toyota Motor Corp, plagued by recalls since October and accusations it responded too slowly to problems, said it had yet to decide whether to recall the GX 460 SUV, sold mainly in North America but also in the Middle East, Russia and some other nations.

Toyota stopped selling the GX 460 in North America on Tuesday within hours of the Consumer Reports warning, acting relatively quickly after being criticized as slow in responding to consumer complaints on faulty gas pedals, defective floor mats and braking software glitches.

Toyota yesterday said the halt to GX 460 sales would extend to all markets. The model is not sold in Japan.

Toyota officials in Tokyo said the firm was carrying out safety tests that were as close as possible to those of Consumer Reports, including vehicle response when the driver makes a turn and releases the gas pedal.

The company said it did not know what the problems could be, but was working on it so that Consumer Reports would be able to retest the GX 460 and give it a satisfactory rating.

"We are now testing the GX 460 to determine if any problem exists," said Paul Nolasco, a Toyota spokesman in Tokyo. "If we find a problem, we will fix it."

Analysts said Toyota was trying to avoid the surge of criticism it faced earlier when it was accused of dragging its feet over gas pedal and other defects.

They said the unusually prompt move underlined how seriously Toyota's reputation had been battered.

"One way is to see Toyota's precautionary measure in a positive light, but there is also the view: Here we go again with yet another problem," said Koji Endo, managing director of Advanced Research Japan Co in Tokyo.

"Being categorized by an influential magazine like Consumers Reports as a 'don't buy' or 'a safety risk' can't be good."

Consumer Reports, widely read by vehicle buyers because of its reputation as fair, has raised red flags over Toyotas previously.

In January, the magazine pulled its "recommended" rating on eight vehicles recalled by the auto maker due to faulty gas pedals.

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