Toyota Chief Feared Having to Resign Over Recalls

Toyota chief
Toyota chief

The president of Toyota Motor (TM) feared he would have to step down, following hearings last winter at the U.S. Capitol about the company's handling of the recall of millions of cars for safety defects, according to reports.

"I was not sure if I could come back to Japan with this position," Akio Toyoda (pictured) said Thursday during an annual shareholders' meeting at Toyota headquarters in central Japan.

Toyoda Apologizes to Shareholders

Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, began the meeting by apologizing for the massive recall of some 8.5 million cars and trucks in the U.S., Japan and other markets. It was his first such meeting as head of the company, having assumed the position almost exactly a year ago.

"We created a problem for all of our shareholders over the quality of our Toyota and Lexus brands," he said, adding that during that period he "wasn't able to rest, not even for a moment."

During the February hearings, some lawmakers expressed incredulity that Toyota executives weren't aware of problems involving unintended acceleration in several models and castigated Toyoda and other company executives for dragging their feet to fix the problems.

Toyota eventually agreed to pay a record $16.4 million fine -- the most allowable by law -- for failing to advise regulators of the potential safety defects in a timely manner. Federal law requires manufacturers to report such problems within five days of discovery.

CEO Says He Will "Try Not to Cry Like That Again"

During a question-and-answer session following his address, shareholders expressed less concern about the quality issues affecting the company than the way in which the company handled the recalls and the costs associated with them.

One shareholder told Toyoda at the meeting that it was inappropriate for him to have cried in meetings with U.S. employees and other people after the hearing, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

"It was definitely not good ... for the head of Japan's leading listed company" to be crying in public like that, the shareholder said. "I will try not to cry like that again," Toyoda replied.

The company faces numerous lawsuits from unintended acceleration claims, which prompted the majority of the recalls. Costs to fight those lawsuits have led analysts to warn they may affect Toyota's future profitability. The federal government continues to investigate the problem, including enlisting the aid of experts from NASA and the National Academy of Sciences.

Despite its ongoing woes, Toyota reversed previous losses in March, recording an annual profit of 209.4 billion yen ($2.3 billion). Further, AFP reported the company expects the figure to soar 48% in the current year.