Toyoda promised to beef up quality control, saying the company was setting up a special committee he would head himself.

It would review internal checks, go over consumer complaints and listen to outside experts to come up with a solution to the widening quality problems.

Toyoda said the company was moving quickly on the global recalls, saying dealers were quickly making repairs on the gas pedals that need a new steel part to prevent sticking.

'Lack of trust'

Japanese cabinet ministers said on Friday that the automaker's response to the crisis "lacked customer focus."

Toyota

Founded in 1937, based in Toyota City, Japan

 Employs approximately 320,000 people worldwide, with manufacturing or assembly plants in 27 countries

 Overtook GM in 2008 to become world's number one selling carmaker

 Sold 7.8 million vehicles worldwide in 2009, including the Prius, the first commercial, mass-produced hybrid car

 Reported a record annual loss of $4.4bn in May, due to impact of global financial crisis

"Of course, diplomatically, it's not an issue of a single company," Katsuya Okada, the Japanese foreign minister, said.

"This is a problem for the whole of the Japanese auto industry, as well as about trust in Japanese products."

Also on Friday Toyota said it was investigating possible braking problems in its luxury Lexus hybrid.

A Toyota spokesman said the company had not received any complaints over the Lexus HS250h model, which went on sale in Japan in July and in North America in September, but was looking to "ensure safety for our customers".

The move comes as US safety regulators begin a formal probe into possible brake problems with the Prius, which has the same braking system as the Lexus.

No Prius recall yet

Japanese media reported on Friday that Toyota would recall an estimated 270,000 units of its latest Prius model in Japan and the US to fix the brake problem.

Toyoda said the automaker is still deciding what steps to take to fix brake problems in the Prius gas-electric hybrid, but that had no plans to suspend sales, as it did with eight other models in the US recalled earlier for a faulty accelerator pedal.

Brian Lyons, a Toyota spokesman, said: "It's too soon to call at this point. We will, of course, fully co-operate with NHTSA in that investigation."

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Thursday said it would assess the scope of the problem and the safety risk.

More than 100 owners of the 2010 Prius have reported experiencing momentary delays in braking over bumpy surfaces and four crashes were alleged by motorists to have been caused by the problems, the NHTSA said.

Toyota expects the spate of safety issues to cost it $2bn by the end of March [Reuters]

Meanwhile US congressional investigators sought to expand their review of Toyota to include company records for the Prius brake system.

Darrell Issa, the senior Republican on the House Oversight Committee, said he would focus on whether Toyota or US regulators failed to properly deal with safety complaints or address them quickly enough in the first of two hearings in congress this month, scheduled for next week.

"We think they should have acted more aggressively or quickly," said Issa, who owns four Prius cars, none of which fall under the investigation.

The 2010 model Prius is a completely redesigned version of the iconic hybrid that Toyota has said is the most important vehicle in its line-up.

Toyota sold almost 140,000 Prius hybrids in the US in 2009, representing almost half of all hybrid sales in the market.

Toyota expects costs and lost sales from the spate of safety issues to total $2bn by the end of March.

The car maker's US sales tumbled 16 per cent in January and are expected to fall further this month.

Ford recall

Meanwhile, US car maker Ford said it would roll out a software patch for consumers to address a reported problem with braking on two of its hybrid models – the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.

Like the Prius, the Ford hybrids capture energy from braking to recharge an on-board battery to boost mileage from its petrol engine.

Ford said its software fix would address the way the traditional brakes and the regenerative braking systems interact, the same broad set of issues affecting the Prius.

Ford's move came after Consumer Reports said one of its test engineers had experienced what appeared to be a loss of braking power with a Fusion hybrid.

The No 2 US car manufacturer by sales notified its dealers of the problem in October but not the public because it did not believe the glitch represented a failure of the brakes.