DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp has told U.S. safety regulators that it is considering how to fix nearly 1.2 million Corolla and Matrix models at risk of stalling out because of flaws in an electronic system.
In a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Toyota said it wanted to meet U.S. officials to discuss an early-stage investigation of the stalling problem.
“Toyota does not believe that the alleged defect creates an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety,” Toyota’s regulatory affairs manager Chris Santucci said in the letter.
The letter was dated March 2 and available on the NHTSA Web site on Wednesday.
The discussion of the engine stalling problem comes at a time when Toyota’s safety record is under intense scrutiny. The automaker has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles this year, mostly for accelerator-related problems.
U.S. safety regulators and members of three congressional panels have criticized the Japanese automaker for moving too slowly to address consumer complaints of unintended acceleration and other safety concerns.
NHTSA opened a preliminary evaluation of Corolla stalling complaints in November 2009.
The agency said then that it had received 26 complaints of engines stalling in Toyota Corolla and Matrix models because of failures in the engine control modules.
U.S. safety regulators said drivers reported the stalls happened “randomly” and some had occurred in highway driving or when drivers were passing through intersections.
Toyota said it did not believe that drivers would have any “prior warning” that the engine was about to stall because of a glitch with the engine’s electronic control unit, or ECU.
But Santucci said Toyota had concluded it would be better for the engine to stall out then “become damaged or dangerous,” putting it at risk of “catastrophic failures” or “fire.”
“Toyota would like to meet with the agency to discuss this issue,” Santucci said in the letter.
Toyota said it believed that the engine control unit could malfunction because of a crack in soldered joints in the unit or because of an electrical short. Both conditions could cause the engine to shut down without warning or fail to start, the automaker said.
The stalling problem affects 1.19 million Corolla and Matrix models from the 2005, 2006 and 2007 model years, Toyota said.
Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall and David Bailey