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Toyota CEO: Carmaker will work to regain trust

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Toyota CEO: Carmaker will work to regain trust



WASHINGTON -- Toyota's walk through Capitol Hill's fire pit began Tuesday with more apologies and included a scolding from a Tennessee woman who said she believes only God saved her from a Lexus ES350 that surged out of control in 2006.

While the world's largest automaker vowed to mend the damaged trust of its owners, a top U.S. executive was forced to admit that two recalls for floor mats and sticking accelerator pedals in 5.6 million vehicles will "not totally" solve unintended acceleration problems.

"It's not in our interests if a problem exists to not find it and not figure it out," said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota's U.S. sales arm.

Today, President and CEO Akio Toyoda is to tell a second congressional committee that the company's quality has suffered because "the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick."

"My name is on every car," said Toyoda. "You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers."

Several lawmakers, outside experts and one customer said the automaker and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had long stonewalled questions about sudden acceleration in its vehicles.

Rhonda Smith teared up as she described calling her husband on a hands-free phone as her runaway Lexus sedan sped past 100 m.p.h.

She said she knew he couldn't help, but she "wanted to hear his voice one more time."

Smith concluded: "Shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy, and shame on you NHTSA for not doing your job."

Flaw may be hard to pin down

The first day of congressional testimony into Toyota's handling of its recalls and safety complaints showed just how nettlesome the problems of sudden acceleration can be.

At one point, a Toyota executive said the answer to a question depended on what the definition of "sudden" was. At another, the top U.S. transportation official said federal regulators had electrical engineers study the problem, contradicting what his agency had told staffers.

And the very nature of the problem -- how frequent it is, how best to fix it -- frequently appeared out of reach.



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