Toyota Stops Selling Lexus HS250h for Fuel Leak Risk in Crashes

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s largest automaker, halted sales of a new hybrid Lexus model because too much fuel spilled in government crash tests, posing a fire risk, the company said yesterday.

Toyota, which paid a record $16.4 million U.S. fine this year for not complying with auto-safety regulations, said in a letter to the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration yesterday that about 17,000 of the HS250h sedans for the 2010 model year are being recalled.

“We’re working intently to duplicate the noncompliance that NHTSA identified,” Brian Lyons, a spokesman for Toyota’s U.S. unit based in Torrance, California, said in an interview. So far, Toyota’s tests of the vehicle show it performs safely, Mark Templin, Lexus group vice president, said in a statement.

The safety agency discovered the defect during a crash test where a barrier, used to simulate a rear-end collision, strikes the back bumper at about 50 miles (80 kilometers) per hour, causing the vehicle to rotate, Lyons said. In a second step, the vehicle is lifted off the ground, which is when the fuel leak was detected, he said.

NHTSA said the fuel leak can lead to a fire when gasoline comes in contact with an ignition source.

Toyota, based in Toyota City, Japan, hasn’t received any reports of accidents or injuries tied to the defect, Lyons said. The company doesn’t yet have a repair for the flaw, he said.

The company reported sales of 12,588 of the HS hybrid-model sedans, with 6,699 sold last year and 5,889 through last month.

Quality Reputation

The sales halt for the HS250h is another blow to the reputation for quality at Lexus, the top-selling luxury brand in the U.S., following a recall of GX 460 sport-utility vehicles in April over a handling flaw reported in tests by Consumer Reports magazine.

This month in an annual survey of new vehicle quality by JD Power and Associates, Lexus, which topped the survey in past years, ranked fourth in initial quality, behind Porsche SE’s namesake brand, Honda Motor Co.’s Acura and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

Toyota halted sales of the Lexus GX 460 after the magazine rated it a “safety risk” because the model could roll over in certain driving conditions. Sales resumed in late April when the stability-control system was modified.

The automaker received heightened regulatory and congressional scrutiny in the U.S. after it recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide since last year for defects that may cause unintended acceleration.

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