Toyota Head Plans U.S. Visit Amid Safety Scandals

The president of Toyota Motor Corp. said he will be visiting the U.S. sometime next month. While some in the Congress would like to hear from him about Toyota’s recent safety troubles, the company would not say if Akio Toyoda would attend any congressional hearings during his visit.

As anyone who follows this blog knows, its been a rough few months for Toyota. The car maker has recalled millions cars – including its popular Prius Hybrid – for problems involving sudden acceleration and faulty brakes.

It all started in September, when Toyota announced it was recalling and replacing floor mats on approximately 4.2 million vehicles which were allegedly causing accelerator pedals in the vehicles to become stuck in the depressed position, leading to uncontrollable and rapid acceleration of the vehicle. On January 21, Toyota recalled 2.3 million vehicles due to accelerator pedals on those vehicles becoming stuck in a depressed position, causing unexpected and unsafe acceleration. Toyota accelerator-related problems have been linked to crashes that killed at least 19 people.

Then on Tuesday, Toyota recalled 400,000 hybrid vehicles, including the 2010 Prius and the Lexus HS250h, to fix their brakes. The hybrid recall came after the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced that it had opened an investigation into the 2010 Prius relating to reports of momentary loss of braking capability while traveling over an uneven road surface, pothole or bump. The NHTSA said it had received 124 reports from consumers, including four reports alleging that crashes occurred.

The same day it announced the hybrid recalls, Toyota also recalled 7,300 of its latest model Camry because a power steering pressure hose in the engine compartment could be the incorrect length. This could cause a hole in the brake tube and deplete the braking fluid, interfering with braking.

The next day, the NHTSA announced it had opened an investigation into 83 consumer complaints about power steering issues on the 2009 and 2010 Corolla, including some where the vehicle unexpectedly veered to the left or right at 40 miles an hour and up.

Toyoda – grandson of Toyota’s founder – has already apologized twice for the company’s failures, and promised to strengthen quality control efforts at Toyota. Now Reuters is reporting that Toyoda is making arrangements to come to the U.S. in early March. During the visit, Toyoda plans to meet U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and major lawmakers and will also hold a news conference as part of his trip, Reuters said.

But Toyota would not comment on any plans Toyoda might have to attend congressional hearings. But it is clear that lawmakers involved in those hearings would like to hear from him. According to Reuters, U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government committee, has invited Toyoda to testify at hearings scheduled for February 24 and 25th, as March 2nd. Issa also offered to schedule another session if Toyoda was unable to attend any of those hearings.

Issa has also written a letter to the committee’s chairman saying he supports using issuing a subpoena if necessary to compel testimony from Toyoda. “Whether it is for a microprocessor engineer or the top executive, we have a duty to determine what Toyota knew, when they knew it and if they met their full obligation of disclosure to U.S. regulators and the American people,” the letter said.

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