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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Akio Toyoda plans U.S. trip to survey recall damage, rally troops

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Akio Toyoda plans U.S. trip to survey recall damage, rally troops

Hans Greimel

Automotive News -- February 9, 2010 - 7:31 am ET

TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda says he plans to visit the United States to meet with dealers, employees, suppliers and customers to get a better handle on the recall crisis that has hammered his company's image and triggered Congressional inquiries.

Such a trip, which some critics say is overdue, would draw from Toyoda's business philosophy of “genchi-genbutsu,” Japanese for “go and see.” The maxim is a guiding principle of the Toyota Way and often cited as a secret to the success of the world's biggest automaker.

“I'm planning to visit the United States,” Toyoda said today at a press conference to announce a global recall of 437,000 hybrid vehicles, including the popular Prius.

“Our employees in the United States, our dealers, our suppliers -- each and everyone is working closely together,” Toyoda added, without saying when he planned to visit. “In my own words, I would like to explain the situation to the people concerned.”

Since last fall, Toyota has witnessed an outbreak of recalls worldwide to address the problem of unintended acceleration. The fix-it list for those recalls has climbed to 8.1 million vehicles.

But Toyoda was widely criticized for not publicly addressing the lapses in quality until the recalls landed in Japan last week with complaints about braking problems in the Prius.

The ensuing Japanese outcry led to today's recall of 437,000 hybrid vehicles worldwide and two rare public appearances from the company's president in the span five days.

A personal 'kaizen'

After announcing his intentions to visit the United States, historically the company's most profitable market, Toyoda said coming out to face the public was his own personal “kaizen,” another Japanese management principle that refers to continuous improvement.

“I did not hold this press conference because of criticism; it is based on my personal kaizen improvement efforts,” Toyoda said. “I thought I should be at the forefront.”

Toyoda, 53, took over as the company's youngest ever president last June.

In an opinion column in the Washington Post, Toyoda said his company would communicate more with U.S. regulators including U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Toyota's head of U.S. operations, Yoshimi Inaba, is scheduled to appear tomorrow alongside LaHood at a hearing at the U.S. House on Oversight and Government Reform.

The title of the hearing is “Toyota Gas Pedals: Is the Public at Risk?”

Toyoda wrote: “We will communicate more frequently and that we will be more vigilant in responding to those officials on all matters.”

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100209/OEM/100209864/1290#ixzz0f2l1D5PO

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Sheesh, he's only a couple weeks late. The damage has been done already.

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