Consumer Fraud

Toyota suspends Lexus HS250h sales after NHTSA finds gas leak

Toyota has suspended U.S. sales of its new hybrid Lexus car after federal regulators found vehicles spilled too much fuel in crash tests, posing a serious fire risk.

Toyota said in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that it is recalling about 17,000 2010 model-year HS250h sedans.

The problem deals another painful blow to a company whose image and reputation are already battered by reports of sudden, unintended acceleration in its vehicles. The problem led to a sales suspension of some of its most popular car models, a record safety recall of more than 8 million vehicles, and a series of federal and congressional investigations.

In an interview with BusinessWeek, Toyota Spokesman Brian Lyons called the safety problem a “noncompliance” with federal standards and said that the company was “working intently to duplicate” it. Lexus Group vice president Mark Templin said that so far Toyota has not been able to duplicate NHTSA’s results.

NHTSA found the problem when the vehicle was struck from behind at 50 mph in a rear-end collision simulation. The agency discovered the fuel leak after the vehicle lifted off the ground. Uncontained fuel will start on fire and possibly explode if it comes into contact with an ignition source, NHTSA warns.

Toyota says that it hasn’t received any reports of accidents or injuries involving the HS hybrid-model cars. 12,588 of the cars have been sold in the U.S. Lexus is the top-selling luxury brand in the country. Its reputation for quality and safety came under fire last August when California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor died along with 3 family members when the rented Lexus he was driving on a California freeway sped out of control and crashed.

Toyota announced a recall of the Lexus GX 460 sport-utility vehicle in April after Consumer Reports tests revealed a serious handling flaw that made the vehicles prone to skid and roll over. The magazine called the SUV a “safety risk” when its vehicle stability controls failed to operate as intended.