US closes investigation of Toyota Corolla steering

Fri May 20, 2011 12:46pm EDT

* No defect found in electronic steering in 2009/10 models

* Boost for automaker trying to regain consumer trust

WASHINGTON May 20 (Reuters) - U.S. auto regulators have quietly closed an investigation of steering complaints in Toyota Motor Co (TM.N) (7203.T) Corollas, a boost for the company trying to regain consumer trust after an explosive safety crisis marked by huge recalls.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) documents show that the agency found no electronic-related steering defects that would compromise safety in model-year 2009 and 2010 Corollas.

The compact sedan is a centerpiece of Toyota's lineup and behind only Camry as the biggest in the U.S. market with 266,000 vehicles sold last year, company figures show.

Moreover, the finding comes three months after NHTSA concluded with fanfare that electronic throttle systems did not contribute to the safety crisis over runaway vehicles that engulfed Toyota in late 2009 and in 2010.

Toyota recalled more than 19 million cars and trucks worldwide over a two-year period ending in January. The string of recalls was triggered by the U.S. investigation of acceleration problems blamed on loose floor mats that could jam the accelerator and gas pedals that did not spring back as designed.

The recalls, subsequent congressional investigations and sensational hearings, and follow-on investigations -- including steering and braking probes -- and lawsuits rocked the company's reputation for quality and hurt sales.

The nearly 15-month Corolla steering investigation closed on May 4 also included the Matrix. It covered nearly 750,000 vehicles manufactured in the United States. (Reporting by John Crawley, editing by Matthew Lewis)

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