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Mr. Toyoda Goes to Washington Looking to Assure Lawmakers

Source: Financial Times

Posted on 25 Feb 2010

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Toyota's chief executive Akio Toyoda, told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday that the crisis engulfing the automaker had taught him to put more emphasis on feedback from customers and better information sharing in his global company.

Making one of the most anticipated appearances by a foreign executive on Capitol Hill, the head of the world's biggest automaker struck a contrite tone, acknowledging that the rapid growth of the company founded by his grandfather had outpaced its internal resources.

“The most important lesson I learned will be to put greater emphasis on customers’ viewpoints and perspectives,” Mr Toyoda said. “We’ll make sure that we get information from various regions of the world in a more timely manner.

Mr. Toyoda delivered an opening statement in English but responded to questions from the congressional committee through an interpreter at the three-hour hearing. After one lengthy response, Edolphus Towns, committee chairman, said: “I’m trying to find out whether that is a yes or a no.”

Mr. Toyoda expressed sympathy to a family that lost four members when their Lexus crashed near San Diego last year with a jammed accelerator pedal. Darrell Issa, the senior Republican on the committee, told reporters that Mr Toyoda also expressed deep regret for the deaths in private meetings. It’s a very personal thing for him that the company has failed to live up to its standards”, Mr Issa said

The committee questioned Mr. Toyoda and Yoshimi Inaba, head of Toyota’s US operations, respectfully with little of the hostility meted out to three Detroit automaker chief executives on Capitol Hill in November 2008.

However, some members upbraided Mr Inaba over a previously disclosed internal memo boasting that Toyota saved $100m by limiting a 2007 vehicle recall.

Toyota officials, lobbyists and dealers crowded into corridors outside the hearing room. Many wore “I am Toyota in America” lapel buttons . Toyota claims it and its dealers employ 172,000 people in the US.

Mr. Inaba acknowledged Toyota knew about sticky pedals in some models in Europe well before the San Diego accident and its US recall. “We did not hide [the information] but it was not properly shared,” he said.

The two executives spelled out steps Toyota was taking to improve quality control, including establishing a safety advisory board, empowered to use an outside laboratory to investigate safety defects.

The oversight committee is one of three Congressional groups that have scheduled hearings on Toyota’s safety issues.