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Toyota chief plans U.S. trip as Congress seeks answers

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Toyota chief plans U.S. trip as Congress seeks answers

February 12, 2010 - 12:01 am ET

TOKYO/DETROIT (Reuters) – Toyota Motor Corp. today said its embattled head, Akio Toyoda, plans a U.S. trip early next month but would not confirm whether he would attend congressional hearings probing the automaker's safety recalls.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the top Republican on the House oversight and government committee, is pressing his case to get Toyoda to testify before a congressional committee, saying he would support a subpoena to force his appearance.

Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles globally for faulty brakes and accelerator-related problems that have been linked to crashes that killed at least 19 people. Its profits have already suffered and its share price has taken a beating, while its once stellar reputation for quality has been tarnished.

The safety recalls will also hurt U.S. dealer sales in the first quarter but payments from Toyota for the repairs will offset any dealer losses over the rest of the year, major U.S. auto dealership groups AutoNation Inc. and Group 1 Automotive said on Thursday.

Toyota spokeswoman Mieko Iwasaki in Tokyo said the company was making arrangements for Toyoda to make a trip to the United States in early March, but she declined to comment on whether he would attend the U.S. congressional hearings.

Issa invited Toyoda to testify and suggested another hearing could be held if the automaker's top executive could not make the Feb. 24 session as scheduled. Hearings are also planned for Feb. 25 and March 2.

In a Feb. 11 letter to Oversight Chairman Democrat Edolphus Towns, Issa said he supports 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 California lawmaker said.

Japan's Asahi newspaper reported on Friday that Toyota would make a formal decision on Toyoda's attending the hearings after it receives an invitation.

Toyota says its head, Akio Toyoda, looks forward to meeting Congress.

It said 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.

"Of course, when he does visit America, he would look forward to the opportunity to meet with members of Congress," the company said in a separate statement.

A spokeswoman for Towns said he would speak with Issa about the matter, but there have been no changes in the witness lineup.

LaHood, David Strickland, consumer advocate Joan Claybrook and safety researcher Sean Kane are also expected to testify.

Issa also suggested former Bush administration transportation officials appear at any follow-up hearing to answer questions about government safety decisions on Toyota that were made during their time in office.

Shares of Toyota rose 1.8 percent to 3,450 yen in Tokyo trade on Friday, outperforming the benchmark Nikkei average, which was up 0.6 percent. The stock is still down almost a fifth since Jan. 21.

Separately, Japan's Yomuiri newspaper reported on Friday that in an effort to regain its standing with customers, Toyota has decided to publicize all car problems including the ones which are not subject to recalls.

Toyota spokeswoman Iwasaki said that the automaker was still checking the report.

Read more: http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100212/OEM/302129994/1143#ixzz0fRkvQCmv

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