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Toyoda 'deeply sorry' for runaway car deaths

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Toyoda 'deeply sorry' for runaway car deaths

David Shepardson / Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington -- Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda apologized to Congress and the American people today, saying he was "deeply sorry" for accidents connected to the recall of 8.5 million vehicles worldwide over sudden acceleration issues.

Toyoda, 53, the grandson of Toyota's founder, raised his right hand and swore to tell the truth to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, one of three congressional panels investigating runaway cars. Toyoda read his prepared statement in English.

"We never run away from our problems or pretend we don't notice them. I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick," Toyoda said of the company founded by his grandfather. "You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers."

Toyoda awaited his turn to testify for more than five hours, in a room off the committee room.

In earlier comments, committee members sharply criticized Toyota's safety record and the performance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"There is striking evidence that the company was at times more concerned with profit than with customer safety," said Chairman Ed Towns, D-N.Y.

"In fact, Toyota officials bragged about saving $100 million by preventing NHTSA from finding a defect related to sudden acceleration."

Towns noted that a July 2009 internal Toyota presentation, first disclosed by The Detroit News on Sunday, indicates that "a premium was placed on delaying or closing NHTSA investigations, delaying new safety rules and blocking the discovery of safety defects."

He noted that the 34 deaths attributed to runaway Toyota vehicles was higher in comparison to other infamous safety issues.

"To give that horrifying number some perspective, there were 27 deaths attributed to the famous Pinto exploding gas tank of the 1970s," Towns said. "In short, if the Camry and the Prius were airplanes, they would be grounded."

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, under persistent committee questioning, acknowledged that NHTSA could have moved faster under the Bush administration in investigating Toyota sudden acceleration issues.

"Some things have taken place that should have been done more expeditiously" at NHTSA, LaHood said.

He denied that Toyota's stellar reputation for quality meant regulators went easier on the company. He also said that the millions of recalled Toyota vehicles that have not yet been repaired are "not safe."

"Those are not safe. We determined that they are not safe," LaHood said.

He later added that he thinks all recalled but as yet unfixed vehicles -- not just Toyotas -- should be considered "unsafe."

Earlier this month, LaHood rattled the markets and the public when he told drivers at another hearing to stop driving their recalled vehicles. He later said he misspoke and meant that only drivers who experienced problems should stop driving and immediately get help from their dealer.

NHTSA's new chief, David Strickland, opted at the last minute not to testify, frustrating Republicans who want more specific answers.

"I will take responsibility," LaHood said when pressed as to why Strickland wasn't testifying. LaHood also noted that Strickland has only been on the job for 40 days.

Victims' stories to be told

In testimony scheduled for later in the day, Fe Niosco Lastrella, the mother of two of four people who died when their Lexus raced out of control in August 2009 will tell Congress about the four lives that "were prematurely taken away."

Mark Saylor, an off-duty California Highway Patrol officer, was behind the wheel of a dealership loaner Lexus when the pedal got trapped in the floor mat. When Chris Lastrella, the brother of Saylor's wife, Cleofe, called 911 asking for help because they couldn't stop, they began to pray before the vehicle crashed.

Chris Lastrella was studying acting, and his mother said, "Chris' voice, over a series of classes and auditions, made him so composed, and the 911 messages were so clear: 'Hold on, pray pray pray.' "

Towns placed the blame for the Saylor crash squarely on Toyota.

"We now know that the terrifying deaths of this family were not caused bed by a freak accident," Towns said. "It turns out that people from all over the country had been complaining about sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles for years, and what people are wondering is, 'Am I next?' "

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100224/AUTO01/2240399/1148/auto01/Toyoda--deeply-sorry--for-runaway-car-deaths#ixzz0gUdcUUoO

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I listened live this afternoon, and Toyoda and Inaba dodged many of the more pointed questions.

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I just thought of something that I haven't thought of yet or heard mentioned... what if Toyota had some type of service like Onstar? I'm willing to bet that not nearly as many deaths may have occurred if Toyotas were equipped with such a system.

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I listened live this afternoon, and Toyoda and Inaba dodged many of the more pointed questions.


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