Lawmakers blistered the world’s largest automaker with accusations of greed and insensitivity
After an exchange of pleasantries that included praise from committee members for his willingness to step into a lion’s den, Toyota President and Chief Executive Officer Akio Toyoda, and Yoshimi Inaba, president and chief executive officer, Toyota Motor North America, drew heavy fire from both Democrats and Republicans for the company’s slowness in dealing with safety defects in its autos and trucks that led to deaths and eventually the massive recalls.
“I’m deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced,” the grandson of the founder of the Japanese auto giant told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He suggested his company’s “priorities became confused” in a quest for growth over the past decade at the expense of safety concerns.
Toyoda told the panel he was “absolutely confident” there was no problem with the electronics of Toyota vehicles and repeated the company’s stance that sudden accelerations were caused by either a sticking gas pedal or a misplaced floor mat. Some outside experts have suggested electronics may be at the root of the problems.
In addition, Toyoda said the company is making changes so brake pedals can override a sudden acceleration and bring a runaway vehicle to a safe stop.
Florida Republican John Mica held up a document showing Toyota celebrating $100 million in savings by avoiding a broad safety recall, saying they make this a “very embarrassing day” for the company.
The document being referenced is the July 2009 internal Toyota memo that listed the issue as a “win” for Toyota. The document says Toyota was able to save $100 million by negotiating a more limited recall with the government in 2007 over.
Representative Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa, said “injuries and the damages suffered by innocent Americans … who like myself have grown up in an atmosphere that we had a great deal of faith in something that was stamped ‘Made in Japan.’”
Currently there are three US congressional investigations concerning incidents of sudden unintended acceleration blamed for more than 30 US deaths and tied to the recall of more than eight million Toyota vehicles worldwide.
Lawmakers and some drivers who survived crashes they blamed on the defects have charged the Japanese auto giant with ignoring complaints and incorrectly blaming accidents on floor mats that jam accelerators or on sticky pedals, while ignoring the possibility of software or electronic problems.
Toyoda pledged his company would change the way it handles consumer complaints, including seeking greater input from drivers and outside safety experts when considering recalls. Toyota managers will also drive cars under investigation to experience potential problems first hand, he said.
Toyoda read from prepared remarks that had been released the day before.
“My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers,” he said. He delivered his short remarks clearly in somewhat accented English. However, when the questioning session began, he switched to Japanese with the help of a translator.
On Tuesday, Toyota’s top US executive, James Lentz, told another House panel the company’s moves to pull some 8.5 million vehicles off the road — six million in the United States — had “not totally” addressed the problem.
Lentz said the company had found no evidence of an electronics problem being to blame but, under heavy fire from angrily skeptical US lawmakers, admitted Toyota had not completely ruled that possibility out.
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