TOKYO — Toyota recalled nearly 1.7 million cars worldwide Wednesday for possible fuel leaks, the latest in a ballooning number of quality problems that could further tarnish the company's reputation in the United States.
About 1.3 million of the recalls are in Japan, but Lexus IS and GS luxury sedans sold in North America are included, too. U.S. dealers will inspect cars to see whether loose fuel pressure sensors cause leaks. There were no accidents suspected of being caused by those problems, according to Toyota.
The latest quality hitch follows a spate of recalls that began in late 2009, mostly in North America, and now cover more than 12 million cars and trucks. The recalls involve defective floor mats and gas pedals that get stuck, some of them suspected of causing unintended acceleration.
Koji Endo, an auto analyst with Advanced Research Japan Co. in Tokyo, said the newest recalls will cost Toyota about $240 million but won't hurt its earnings much.
"But there is that perception of 'here we go again,' and that hurts Toyota's image, especially in North America," he said.
The biggest damage to Toyota's image has been in the United States, where its response to safety problems was seen as slow. The company has lost some potential U.S. customers: A survey done by consumer website Edmunds.com showed that 17.9 percent of all car shoppers last month were considering a Toyota, a drop of 3.8 percentage points from a year earlier.
To help respond to customer complaints and investigate quality concerns quickly, the company recently opened two new field offices, in Houston and in Jacksonville. It plans to open another in Denver by the end of the first quarter and already has offices in New York and San Francisco. The offices are part of Toyota's plan to improve global quality and communication within the company.
In one of the problems announced Wednesday, an improper installation of a sensor to measure fuel pressure may cause the device to loosen as a result of engine vibrations and possibly cause fuel to leak, the company said. The problem also affects 280,000 Lexus cars sold abroad, most in North America.
Included under that recall are the 2006 through 2007 Lexus GS300/350, 2006 through early 2009 Lexus IS250, and 2006 through early 2008 Lexus IS350 sold in the United States.
The second problem, which affects 141,000 Avensis sedans and station wagons sold in Europe and New Zealand, was caused by irregular work on the fuel pipe, which may cause cracks and fuel leakage, Toyota said.