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Akio Toyoda trip to America creates doubt

Published February 16, 2010


TOKYO–Toyota has still not decided whether its president will appear before the U.S. Congress, the automaker said Monday, but it promised to look again into possible electronic problems with its vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been criticized as being slow in responding to the unfolding recall crisis, which has ballooned over the past four months to 8.5 million vehicles globally with problems with gas pedals, floor mats and brakes.

Calls have been growing for Toyota President Akio Toyoda to answer questions from U.S. lawmakers. Toyoda told reporters last week that he planned to go to the U.S., mainly to talk to American workers and dealers.

Toyota said Toyoda will talk to reporters Wednesday in Tokyo about the progress of the recall of more than 400,000 Prius cars, whose braking software is being replaced.

Criticized for initially being largely invisible, Toyoda has appeared at two recent news conferences, where he has apologized for the recalls and promised to be more responsive to customers.

Toyota said Wednesday’s news conference will also address the company’s approach to quality. Officials refused to give other details.

The automaker said Friday it is recalling about 8,000 Tacoma pickup trucks from the 2010 model year to fix a problem with the front propeller shaft that could cause the vehicle to lose control.

There are about 1,500 Tacoma pickup trucks affected in Canada.

Toyota has announced recalls affecting more than eight million vehicles worldwide, including more than 270,000 in Canada.

Details for Toyoda’s U.S. trip are still being worked out, and it was unclear when a decision could come, according to Toyota.

In Washington, Republican Representative Darrell Issa has said Toyoda should testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24.

In a letter to the committee last week, Toyota attorney Theodore Hester said the company has carried out “exhaustive and robust” tests, and does not think there are any electronics problems with its vehicles, but promised to look into it again.

“In the spirit of the recent commitment made by Mr. Toyoda that our company will review all safety issues and potential safety issues with renewed vigour, we will be re-examining these complaints,” it said of reports of sudden acceleration.

In Japan, where brand loyalty to Toyota remains relatively strong, the world’s biggest automaker has been trying to send a message of remorse to assuage consumers.

On Monday, it rolled out a new Japan compact model called Passo without the usual fanfare for Japanese automakers, such as an unveiling ceremony with entertainment and top executives.

Toyota suddenly cancelled the planned event last week, acknowledging celebration was inappropriate amid the recalls.

Toyota in Tokyo said it had not yet received a notice from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about worries the series of recalls may next expand to the Corolla.

“We have yet to be contacted by the NHTSA regarding what has been reported in the press about a power-steering issue in the Corolla,” Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said.

“Should we be contacted about any investigation by NHTSA related to any of our products, we will co-operate fully.”

NHTSA has said it is looking into complaints from drivers about difficulty with steering in 2009 and 2010 Corollas, which say they can wander while driving on highways.

There is no reason to think a Corolla recall may be imminent.