Toyota restarts production of first electric vehicle after resolving safety issues

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REUTERS/Mike
The 2023 Toyota bZ4X all-electric SUV is displayed during the 2021 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California, United States, on November 17, 2021.

TOKYO (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp 7203.T said it would restart production of its first electric vehicle, the bZ4X, on Thursday after addressing potential safety issues that had halted sales of the new battery-powered model for more of three months.

Japan’s biggest automaker, a latecomer to the electric vehicle market, recalled 2,700 bZ4Xs worldwide in June after it discovered there was a risk of the car’s wheels coming off.

Subaru Corp 7270.T, a fifth owned by Toyota, also had to recall units of the related Solterra model that it jointly developed with Toyota.

A recall notice submitted to Japan’s transport ministry by Toyota in June said sharp turns and hard braking could cause a hub bolt to loosen, increasing the risk of a wheel coming off the vehicle.

The automaker said in a ministry filing on Thursday that it will ensure hub bolts are replaced and properly torqued in new versions of the bZ4X.

Additionally, Toyota said it identified and resolved a potential issue with the car’s airbags. Some airbags were installed incorrectly at the factory and could fail or cause injury due to the placement of a strap inside the airbag assembly.

Toyota had not previously disclosed this issue.

Masahiko Maeda, Toyota’s chief technology officer, told a briefing that the automaker only became aware of the airbag problem in the past two months.

“We again apologize for the concern, anxiety and inconvenience we have caused our customers, dealers and stakeholders,” Maeda said.

He declined to comment on the cost of the recall.

Toyota has come under fire from environmental groups and investors who want the company to grow faster in battery electric vehicles. Toyota pushed back, saying it needed to offer car choices to suit different markets and customers.

Hybrids like the Prius remain much more popular in Toyota’s home market. Pure battery electric vehicles accounted for just 1% of passenger cars sold in Japan last year, according to industry data.

The bZ4X is available for rental only in Japan – service that will resume on October 26, Maeda said. He did not say when sales in the United States would resume.

Just 232 crossover units, billed as Toyota’s answer to Tesla’s TSLA.O Model Y and Volkswagen’s VOWG_p.DE ID.4, have been sold this year in the United States.

Last year, the Japanese automaker committed about $30 billion to developing battery-electric vehicles. It expects the company’s annual sales of these cars to reach just 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, about a third of its current annual sales of gasoline-powered cars.

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