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Toyota vows to 'buckle up'

Published:Sunday | February 28, 2010 | 12:00 AM


Fresh from a gruelling appearance before Congress, Toyota's chief executive met with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Thursday and pledged "to advance safety to the next level."

Akio Toyoda then headed to the state of Kentucky to visit Toyota's largest North American manufacturing plant, which churns out the popular Camry, one of the models in the 6 million-vehicle US recall.

The cost to Toyota's reputation is only now starting to emerge.

The world's biggest automaker is facing legal and public relations problems on several fronts: a criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York; a probe by the Securities and Exchange Commission; and anger by US dealerships in line to repair potentially millions of recalled vehicles. Toyota is offering customers new reimbursements for rental cars and other expenses.


Company lawyers are bracing for large numbers of death and injury lawsuits. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee plans a hearing Tuesday and has asked LaHood, federal highway safety chief David Strickland and two Toyota executives ? Toyota's North American president, Yoshi Inaba, and quality control official Shinichi Sasaki ? to testify.

Transportation officials said Toyoda's meeting with LaHood lasted about 30 minutes and focused on the importance of safety and protecting consumers. Toyoda "promised to take the initiative to advance safety to the next level," according to a Toyota statement.

Back-to-back congressional hearings this week failed to clear up Toyota's slow actions in dealing with the defects and provide guarantees that the problems that led to sudden, unintended accelerations will be fixed.

At the hearings, Toyoda repeated the company's insistence that there was no link between the problems and the cars' electronic systems.

Many drivers filing complaints with Toyota and the government say their acceleration problems had nothing to do with floor mat interference or sticky gas pedals ? the culprits the company is pointing to. Outside experts have suggested electronic problems.