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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

LaHood: Toyota's making progress

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LaHood: Toyota's making progress

Better communication skills noted; fines still possible

BY JUSTIN HYDE

FREE PRESS WASHINGTON STAFF

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said during a visit to Toyota’s world headquarters today that the automaker’s top leaders were making sincere efforts to improve its safety.

But he warned that additional fines were possible as U.S. auto safety regulators worked through 500,000 pages of documents in a probe that LaHood said would take at least a couple of months to complete.

Noting that he had called Toyota “safety deaf,” LaHood said Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda has “tried to improve their hearing” through the appointment of U.S. executives overseeing quality.

“I told him I hope these things you’ve done will work, but they will only work if you pay attention to these people,” LaHood said in a call with reporters this morning.

Among the problems revealed by congressional probes into Toyota’s foot-dragging on thousands of complaints into sudden acceleration were repeated quality concerns raised by U.S. officials that were ignored by Toyota executives in Japan.

The automaker has now recalled more than 8 million vehicles worldwide, faces hundreds of lawsuits in the United States. It’s pushback against federal regulators before the recalls has spurred Congress to consider the toughest overhaul of federal auto safety laws since the Ford-Firestone case a decade ago.

LaHood said Toyoda grasped the depth of the problems facing his company in the United States during his visit earlier this year.

“I think he listened very carefully, and he understood for the first time Toyota was facing some very, very serious credibility problems in the United States,” LaHood said. “He has listened and paid attention.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has fined Toyota $16.4 million for delaying the recall of 2.3 million vehicles for sticking accelerator pedals, and has other probes under way that could lead to more fines. Toyota has paid the first fine without admitting any wrongdoing.

“We take the safety of the American people seriously,” LaHood said.

As part of his visit to Toyota city, LaHood toured the automaker’s electronics lab, and said the company pledged to cooperate with NASA engineers in the United States brought in by LaHood to analyze the automaker’s systems.

He also praised the appointment of Steve St. Angelo, a Toyota manufacturing executive, to a new post as chief quality officer for its U.S. arm.

It looks like he’s taken our advice…where we said he really needed to change the way he listened to his officials in North America,” LaHood said. “He has put some listening opportunities in place.”

During a news conference with LaHood, Toyoda said the automaker was making "strong progress" on improving communication among its far-flung branches.

"We are giving our local regions a greater role in making safety decisions and we are sharing information across regions on a more timely basis," he said.

Toyoda also said he would be traveling to the U.S. soon as part of the company's safety improvement efforts.

link:

http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20100510/BUSINESS01/100510008/1210/LaHood-Toyotas-making-progress&template=fullarticle

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