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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Toyota to create independent quality panel

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Toyota to create independent quality panel

Christine Tierney / The Detroit News

Toyota Motor Corp. is establishing a blue-ribbon panel of independent experts that will include a former U.S. transportation secretary to ensure that the automaker's new quality controls will be among the best in the industry.

"I am pleased to say that former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater will help lead this panel," Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota's highest ranking executive in North America, said in remark she is expected to deliver today to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. Toyota provided an advance copy of Inaba's statement.

Slater was a member of President Bill Clinton's cabinet during Clinton's second term. He previously headed the Federal Highway Administration.

Inaba, president of Toyota Motor North America and chairman of its U.S. sales subsidiary, outlined the other steps the Japanese automaker is taking to improve the safety of its vehicles in his second appearance in two weeks before a congressional panel.

"At a global level, we have established a Special Committee for Global Quality, led by Toyota's president. It will thoroughly review our operations and make changes to ensure problems of this magnitude do not happen again," Inaba said.

"We are redoubling our commitment to always put our customers -- and their safety -- first," he said. "In recent months, we have not lived up to the high standards our customers and the public have come to expect from Toyota. ... As our President Akio Toyoda told members of Congress last week, we sincerely regret that our shortcomings have resulted in the issues associated with our recent recalls."

Inaba was accompanied by two senior Toyota executives based in Japan. In his remarks, Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki, responsible for quality assurance and customer service, said the company was revising its quality-assurance process to be less technical and more realistic.

"This overhaul will cover the entire quality assurance process -- from vehicle planning and design to manufacturing, sales and service," Sasaki said. "In the design stage, we previously had been focused on technical and regulatory considerations. However, we need to do more to consider customer expectations and real world usage of our vehicles, even irregular use," he said. "We need to focus even more on customer behavior, and reduce the number of things we ask our customers to do correctly."

Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's chief engineer, reiterated the company's stance that it did not believe the problems described by customers reflect any defect with the electronics.

"While concerns have been raised about our electronic throttle control system, this system -- used by all major automakers -- actually represents a great safety advancement, enabling superior traction control and electronic stability control, among other things," Uchiyamada said.

"Toyota places the greatest importance on ensuring that the reliability of this system is absolute by undertaking rigorous design and testing processes. The first is the fail-safe mechanisms we build into the design. Second is its tolerance to extreme environmental conditions. And third is its resistance to software problems," he said.

Toyota tests the software in this system extensively, both during the design phase and after it's developed, to ensure that there's no possibility of "sudden unintended acceleration," Uchiyamada said.

"As a result of our extensive testing, we do not believe sudden unintended acceleration because of a defect in our ETCS (electronic throttle control system) has ever happened," he said. "However, (we) will continue to search for any event in which such a failure could occur."

Toyota has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles, including slightly more than 6 million in the U.S., mainly to address a risk of unintended acceleration. The fixes include shortening or redesigning the gas pedal and adding an additional fail-safe measure, an electronic brake override feature.

Inaba said Toyota's U.S. dealers have repaired more than 1 million vehicles to date and are making extraordinary efforts to complete the recalls quickly.

"They are literally working around the clock," he said.

Toyota also has extended complimentary services to owners concerned about driving their vehicle before the repair is completed, he said.

From The Detroit News: http://www.detnews.com/article/20100302/AUTO01/3020343/1148/auto01/Toyota-to-create-independent-quality-panel#ixzz0h1sBXvUP

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