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Toyota Chief Apologizes For Recalls

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

NPR's Brian Naylor reports.

BRIAN NAYLOR: It was a moment of grand drama in the hearing room of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee as Akio Toyoda took his seat at the hearing table. While he's spoken to media outside the U.S., this was his first performance on the Washington stage as his company recalls eight and a half million vehicles worldwide because of instances of sudden acceleration. Mr. Toyoda said the problem stemmed from the company's desire to become the world's largest automaker.

AKIO TOYODA: We pursued growth over the speed at which we are able to develop our people and our organization, and we should sincerely be mindful of that. I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today.

NAYLOR: Some three dozen deaths have been attributed to sudden acceleration in the U.S. Toyoda offered a personal apology to a California family who lost four members in a fiery crash near San Diego last August.

TOYODA: Especially, I would like to extend my condolences to the members of the Saylor family for the accident in San Diego. I would like to send my prayers again, and I will do everything in my power to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again.

NAYLOR: For the most part, lawmakers received Toyoda respectfully. Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, a Democrat from New York, told Toyoda his appearance shows his commitment to safety. But earlier, Towns had some stinging words for two popular models that have been recalled.

EDOLPHUS TOWNS: If the Camry and the Prius were airplanes, they would be grounded.

NAYLOR: Florida Republican John Mica held up a document uncovered by congressional investigators in which the company bragged it won a victory when the government recalled floor mats believed to cause unintended acceleration, but not the car itself, saving the company $100 million. Mica addressed the president of Toyota North America Yoshimi Inaba.

JOHN MICA: Mr. Inaba, this was one of the most embarrassing documents I have ever seen. In your preparation of this, you embarrassed all the people I represent, those hardworking people across this country.

NAYLOR: Inaba said while the document had been sent to him, he had only been on the job a few days and it didn't represent his view.

YOSHIMI INABA: It is so inconsistent with the guiding principle of Toyota and my feelings.

NAYLOR: The role of the government in overseeing auto safety also came under examination. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was questioned for four hours about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one criticism that former NHTSA staffers went to work for Toyota after leaving the agency.

RAY LAHOOD: What the law requires is that if you've been an employee at DOT and you go to work for a company that does work with DOT, you cannot communicate or participate in the work that you did with this company.

NAYLOR: Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

NPR News' Brian Naylor is a correspondent on the Washington Desk. In this role, he covers politics and federal agencies.