Toyota's President Apologizes For Safety Woes
The president of Toyota Motor Corp. apologized Friday for safety problems that have led to massive worldwide recalls of its vehicles, as the company considers its options for addressing brake pedal problems in the 2010 edition of the top-selling Prius hybrid.
Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, promised to strengthen quality control, review consumer complaints and listen to outside experts in an effort to head off the deepening crisis.
"I'd like to apologize to the customers for the troubles and worry they've suffered in various areas and because of various recalls," Toyoda said at a news conference at the company headquarters in Nagoya, Japan. "Lots of customers may be wondering whether their car is OK, and, so, I organized this press conference to talk directly to them."
Beginning the news conference with a customary Japanese bow, Toyoda said his company's cars are safe, and he announced that he will lead a global quality control task force with independent experts acting as extra quality advisers.
He promised Toyota will quickly make repairs on the sticking accelerator pedals that let to a global recall of 4.6 million vehicles. "Believe me, Toyota cars are safe," he said.
Industry experts said Toyoda, who has not previously commented on his company's mounting problems, had to take a stand to prevent the world's largest automaker's image from further damage.
Masaaki Sato, who has written books about rival Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda, criticized Toyoda for waiting so long to come forward — and for not acting in the U.S. without prodding by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"He should have come out a week ago," Sato said. "After all the foot-dragging, he was pushed into a corner."
Toyota has recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. because of a problem that causes accelerators to stick when the pedal is depressed.
U.S. dealerships started receiving the parts to fix the gas pedals this week, but they may soon be dealing with another problem.
Toyoda acknowledged that the company is reviewing more than 200 complaints by Japanese and U.S. drivers who say they've experienced a short delay before their brakes engage in the Prius hybrids — a problem that can be addressed by a change in the software programming. He said the company is cooperating fully with investigations by safety officials in the U.S. and Japan.
The company has fixed the programming glitch in Prius models that went on sale since last month but has done nothing yet for 270,000 Prius cars sold last year in Japan and the U.S. The remodeled third-generation Prius went on sale in May last year.
Toyota is also investigating possible brake problems with its luxury Lexus hybrid and the Sai compact sedan, both of which use the same brake system as the Prius. Toyota has not received any complaints about the Lexus HS250h and the probe is to ensure safety, it has said. The Sai is not sold outside Japan.
Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Maehara has urged Toyota to consider a recall for the Prius brake problem. The Transport Ministry oversees recalls and other auto regulation.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Toyota's problems may cause a crisis of confidence in consumers all over the world.
"Diplomatically, it's not an issue of a single company," Okada said, Kyodo News agency reported. "The issue is about trust in Japan's entire auto industry and Japanese products overall."
Indeed, Toyota shares have fallen as much as 23 percent since the automaker reported problems with gas pedals and earlier problem that involved gas pedals getting caught in floor mats.
In addition, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to investigate the safety issues plaguing Toyota. It's the first of two congressional hearings schedued for this month.
Written by NPR's Deborah Tedford; reported by Louisa Lim, Giles Snyder and Frank Langfitt with additional reporting from The Associated Press
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