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Toyota suspends sales of Lexus

NEW YORK, Apr 14 – Toyota has suspended North American sales of its 2010 Lexus GX 460 after a US consumer magazine issued a safety warning, in the latest blow to the embattled Japanese automaker\’s reputation.

Consumer Reports gave the sports utility vehicle a rare "Don\’t Buy: Safety Risk" rating after finding safety risks when testing the car.

When pushed to its limits, the rear of the GX "slid out until the vehicle was almost sideways before the electronic stability control system was able to regain control," the magazine said.

"We believe that in real-world driving, that situation could lead to a rollover accident, which could cause serious injury or death," it added, although cautioning it was "not aware of any such reports."

In response Toyota, late Tuesday said it asked dealers to "temporarily suspend sales of the 2010 GX 460" in the United States, but insisted it was "confident that the GX meets our high safety standards."

Toyota also asked dealers in Canada "to temporarily suspend delivery" of the same model, the company said.

The automaker has recalled millions of cars worldwide since late 2009, mostly over a series of problems linked to "unintended acceleration."

The recalls have caused an outcry in the United States, with Toyota executives hauled over the coals in the US Congress and the company\’s previously stellar reputation for safety left in tatters.

Toyota said it was concerned by the Consumer Reports rating and had not experienced any similar problems in its own tests. It offered to provide a loan car to concerned GX 460 owners until it had identified a remedy.

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"We are taking the situation with the GX 460 very seriously and are determined to identify and correct the issue Consumer Reports identified," Toyota said.

"Our engineering teams are vigorously testing the GX using Consumer Reports\’ specific parameters to identify how we can make the GX\’s performance even better."

The company faces a record 16.4-million-dollar fine in the United States for its failure to notify authorities quickly about vehicle safety problems.

And its troubles are not over yet, with the National Highway Transport Safety Administration (NHTSA) warning Toyota in a letter obtained Saturday by AFP that it could slap another fine on the Japanese automaker.

Of Toyota\’s recalls, more than six million have been in the United States, mainly for sudden acceleration problems but also for brake-system issues on some hybrid vehicles.

The automaker has been hit with at least 97 lawsuits seeking damages for injury or death linked to sudden acceleration and 138 class action lawsuits from customers suing to recoup losses in the resale value of Toyota vehicles following the recalls.

It has also suspended production of some Lexus models in Japan over problems with the braking system.

The beleaguered automaker recently announced it would reshape its global operations as part of efforts to "regain consumer confidence" by boosting transparency and speeding up the decision-making process for recalls.

Despite the latest blows to Toyota\’s reputation, its shares closed 0.94 percent higher at 3,740 yen in Tokyo trade Wednesday.

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