Toyota's Chief to Congress: 'I Take Full Responsibility'

After weeks of speculation, Toyota Motor (TM) President Akio Toyoda appeared Wednesday before lawmakers in Washington to explain recalls of millions of Toyota vehicles for unintentional acceleration and braking problems.Speaking before the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Toyoda (pictured) apologized for his company's failures in properly acknowledging and addressing problems with Toyota and Lexus vehicles.

"In the past few months, our customers have started to feel uncertain about the safety of Toyota's vehicles, and I take full responsibility for that," Toyoda said. Further, Toyoda, 53, said he viewed the hearing as an opportunity to explain to Americans and Toyota owners worldwide how seriously Toyota takes the quality and safety of its vehicles.

Among several initiatives, Toyoda said, speaking in halting English, that the company is devising systems in which customers' concerns from around the world will reach Toyota management "in a timely manner." Further, Toyoda said the company will invest heavily in quality in the U.S. through the establishment of an Automotive Center for Quality Excellence, create the position of product safety executive and share information and responsibility within the company for product quality decisions, including defects and recalls.

Yoshi Inaba, Toyota president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America, appeared alongside Toyoda and expressed further the company's goal to once again restore the trust of tens of millions of Americans "that drive our vehicles" and said he will be closely involved in the company's top-to-bottom review of its global quality processes.

Lost in Translation?

But lawmakers were skeptical, and Toyoda's inability to respond to questions in English made for difficult questioning.

In response to a question posed by committee chairman Edolphus Towns (D.-N.Y.) about whether Toyota executives have disclosed all they know about quality problems in Toyota cars, Toyoda, provided a lengthy answer in Japanese. Towns interrupted, saying, "I was looking for a 'yes' or 'no.'"

When asked about an agreement reached with New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to provide Toyota owners with free pick-up and delivery of recalled cars from vehicle owners' homes and other accommodations, Inaba replied that the program would be rolled out nationwide, although he said so, seemingly misunderstanding the question.

Questions posed to Toyoda and Inaba continued into late Wednesday afternoon. The Toyota executives' appearance before the committee came after a second day of testimony by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood spoke Tuesday before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to answer questions about the Toyota recalls and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's involvement in them.

Speaking before the Oversight and Government Reforms Committee on Wednesday, LaHood reiterated many of the same points he had made the day before. He lauded Toyota's response to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's overtures and inquiries. When asked if NHTSA is looking into whether an electronic circuitry problem may be the source of unintended acceleration in some Toyota vehicles, LaHood said, "We will get in the weeds on this" to find out if electronics are the source of the problem.

Still an Open Question

Toyota has contended that instances of sudden unintended acceleration are caused by sticky gas pedals or jammed floormats, for which it has issued two recalls.

But testimony given Tuesday by Toyota Motor Sales USA President and Chief Operating Officer James Lentz opened the door to electronics being a possible source of the problem. When pressed by Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D.-Calif.) on whether the recalls Toyota put in place to deal with the issue would completely solve it, Lentz said, "Not totally."
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