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(Toyota article updated with commentary, background information and stock closing prices.)



) -- The mixed messages coming from government safety regulators and


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the company's massive recalls

threaten to turn Toyota's bad week into a bad month -- or bad year.

Adding to Toyota's mounting public image problem is the revelation, today, of more braking issues. This time they've been found in

Toyota's widely hailed new gas-electric hybrid, the Prius

. Toyota has received about 180 complaints in the U.S. and Japan about the car's brakes, according to the

Associated Press

. Ultimately, a recall is not out of the question for the Prius, too.

In addition, it was revealed today that government safety regulators were aware of Toyota's sudden-acceleration problems more than two years ago. However, both they and Toyota apparently didn't know how broad the problem would become, according to the

Washington Post.

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The investigation officially began in August 2007 and came amid numerous reports about acceleration problems with the 100 Lexus ES 350.

Still, more often than not, the investigations ended at the preliminary stage; this meant that investigators didn't proceed with engineering analysis of the problem, according to the


. Why safety regulators and Toyota didn't resolve the problem from the beginning is now in question.

Toyota has told customers that the sudden acceleration problems have stemmed either from gas pedals sticking to floor mats or from malfunctioning auto-friction devices, which are supposed to make accelerator pedals steadier and more stable.

But now government safety regulators are looking into the vehicles'

electronic throttle systems

as the possible root of the problem.

Toyota on Thursday reported that it swung to a profit of $1.69 billion in the third quarter from a year-earlier loss. The company also revised its full-year earnings forecast to 80 billion yen from a previous outlook of a loss of 200 billion yen. That rosy picture doesn't take into account the challenging months ahead for the company as it tries to rebuild trust among customers. Right now, it's estimated that the massive recalls could cost Toyota $2 billion.

On Jan. 26, Toyota announced that it would instruct Toyota dealers to

temporarily suspend sales of eight models

and said it expects to stop making vehicles on several production lines for the week of February 1.

The announcements came after Toyota said the week before that it would recall about 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. to correct sticking accelerator pedals.

Later, Toyota expanded the recall

to China and Europe.

On top of all that, Toyota on Jan. 27 expanded a separate, ongoing recall related to gas pedals announced last year by 1.1 million vehicles from the original 4.3 million.

Automaker shares finished the trading session in negative territory.

Amid a sharp selloff in the broader equities markets, Toyota stock lost 2.3% at $71.80, while rival


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tumbled 5% to $11.10.


(HMC) - Get Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Report

lost 3.8% to $35 and


( DAI) was down 5.8% at $45.20.

All of this, of course, may represent an opportune time for


, Ford and


to gain some market share after being overshadowed by Toyota for years.


Toyota is hurting

just as the auto industry is starting to regain traction. Toyota U.S.A's January sales plunged 16% from the year-ago period following a massive recall of popular car models and an unprecedented suspension of sales and production.

Ford on the other hand reported a roughly 25% increase in U.S. January sales and estimates achieving a U.S. market share of 16%. This is up two points from the same month last year. GM's sales also increased in January, up 14%. Chrysler's sales fell 8%.

-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York


>> Toyota Ups View, Admits Prius Brake Flaw

>> Toyota Accused of Hiding Graver Problems

>> Ford Gains Sales Traction; Toyota Slides

>> Can Ford Reclaim Toyota's Throne?

>>Toyota Adds to Recall List in Europe


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