Toyota’s President Apologizes to Customers for Recall Worries

Toyota’s* president apologized Friday for problems that have led to millions of recalled vehicles worldwide, tarnished the automaker’s reputation for safety and put the company “in crisis.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing many of our customers concern after the recalls across several models in several regions,” Akio Toyoda said at a news conference at the company’s headquarters in Nagoya, Japan.

Toyoda said the company is establishing a special committee that he would lead to review internal checks and consumer complaints, as well as listen to outside experts to resolve widening quality problems.

The company has recalled some 8 million cars worldwide over problems related to a sticking accelerator pedal that have been linked to up to 19 crash deaths in the United States over the past decade.

The carmaker is considering a second recall over the brakes on some Prius hybrids. Toyoda told the news conference that Prius measures would be announced as soon as they had been decided.

“Believe me, Toyota cars are safe”, said Toyoda, grandson of the company’s founder, breaking his near-total silence since the recall.

Toyota shares have lost about $30 billion or a fifth of their value since Jan. 21 when it launched a U.S. recall related to faulty accelerator pedals. Kazutaka Oshima, president of Rakuten Investment Management, said investors needed answers.

“Toyoda is responsible for explaining to shareholders since they have lost a significant part of their assets,” he said, according to Reuters.

The news conference came after rival Ford Motor Co. also readied a solution for braking glitches on two of its hybrid models, in what appeared to point to a broader problem with the brakes on hybrid cars.

Toyota’s and Ford’s hybrids capture energy from braking to recharge an on-board battery to boost mileage from its gasoline engine. On ice and bumpy roads ice, the Prius’ regenerative brakes appear to slip, allowing the vehicle to lurch forward before the traditional brakes engage, owners have said.

Safety regulators in the United States and Japan are investigating braking problems with the latest version of the Prius, Japan’s top-selling car in 2009 and a green design icon that has lifted the public image of the company. Since its launch last May, Toyota has sold 311,000 units of the newest version of the Prius — around 200,000 in Japan and another 103,200 in the United States.

Meanwhile, dealers are scrambling to make repairs on the gas pedals that need a new steel part to prevent sticking. Watch a repair being done.

  • For the record, Toyota is a NewsHour underwriter.