Toyota reproduces its first electric car after fixing safety problems

TOKYO (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Co. said it will resume production of its first electric car, the bZ4X, on Thursday after fixing potential safety issues that have halted sales of the new battery-powered model for more than three months.

Japan’s largest automaker, a slowdown in the electric car market, recalled 2,700 bZ4Xs globally in June after discovering there was a risk that the car’s wheels could explode.

Subaru Corporation (7270.)a fifth company owned by Toyota, also had to withdraw related Solterra model units that it jointly developed with Toyota.

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A recall notice that Toyota filed with Japan’s Transportation Ministry in June said sharp turns and sudden braking could cause the axle bolt to loosen, increasing the risk of a wheel slipping off the vehicle.

The automaker said Thursday in a ministry filing that it will make sure the hub bolts are replaced and tightened correctly on new versions of the bZ4X.

Additionally, Toyota said it has identified and fixed a potential problem with the car’s airbags. Some airbags were improperly installed at the factory and were at risk of malfunctioning or causing injury due to a belt being placed inside the airbag assembly.

Toyota has not previously disclosed this problem.

Masahiko Maeda, Toyota’s chief technology officer, said at a news briefing that the automaker was only aware of the airbag issue in the past month or two.

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

He declined to comment on the cost of the summons.

Toyota has faced criticism from environmental groups and investors who want the company to expand faster into battery electric vehicles. Toyota backed down, saying it needed to offer vehicle options to suit different markets and customers.

Hybrids such as the Prius are still more popular in Toyota’s domestic market. Battery electric vehicles made up just 1% of passenger cars sold in Japan last year, according to industry data.

Maeda said the bZ4X is only available for rental in Japan – service that will resume on October 26. No date has been set for the resumption of US sales.

Only 232 crossover units, shown as Toyota’s answer to Tesla (TSLA.O) Model Y and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) ID.4, sold this year in the US.

Last year, the Japanese automaker pledged nearly $30 billion to develop battery electric vehicles. It expects the company’s annual sales of only 3.5 million vehicles by the end of the decade, about a third of the current annual sales of its gasoline-powered vehicles.

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(cover) by Satoshi Sugiyama and Maki Shiraki; Editing by Kevin Kroliky and Edwina Gibbs

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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