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Toyota alerts U.S. safety board to issue that could result in recall

A visitor walking past cars is reflected on a Toyota car at the company's showroom in Tokyo February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
A visitor walking past cars is reflected on a Toyota car at the company's showroom in Tokyo February 5, 2013. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

(Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp has alerted U.S. safety officials about seat material in several vehicles that does not meet fire retardation standards, which could result in a recall depending on what the safety agency decides.

The Japanese automaker said on Thursday it had stopped selling several models in North America equipped with seat heaters made since August 2012 after being alerted by South Korean safety officials that material in the part did not meet fire retardation standards also used in the United States. The cars are built in United States and some are exported to Korea.

Toyota spokesman John Hanson said the company had informed the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the issue and would file an official report later on Thursday outlining the non-compliance with the standard. He added that Toyota did not feel a recall was necessary.

"We don't believe that it is a defect issue or a safety-related issue because there has been no occurrence of any problems out in the real world," Hanson said.

There have been no reports of accidents, fires or injuries related to the issue in the affected vehicles in the United States, Canada or Mexico, he said.

The NHTSA will make the final determination on whether a recall is needed, and Hanson said he did not know the timeline for that decision. Toyota does not know yet how many cars are affected by the issue, he said.

NHTSA officials could not immediately be reached to comment.

Toyota dealers have been told to stop selling any of the affected vehicles until the part can be replaced, Hanson said. The automaker will handle requests by individual owners to replace the part at no cost on a case-by-case basis.

Affected vehicles are the Camry sedan, Camry hybrid, Avalon sedan, Avalon hybrid, Corolla subcompact, Sienna minivan and Tundra and Tacoma pickup trucks equipped with seat heaters that were sold since August 2012, when the fabric supplier was changed, he said.

Toyota found out about the issue when it was notified that the seat heater did not pass a test conducted by the Korean Automotive Test and Research Institute (KATRI), which uses the same standard as NHTSA, Hanson said.

The Korean agency found that the material in the seat heater does not meet standards that require it to retard a flame across the material surface at a specified rate, he said. KATRI notified Toyota of the failed compliance.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and Yoko Kuboto in Tokyo; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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