Admitting Toyota feels "ashamed," the company's CEO and president Tuesday asked his customers to wait "just a little longer" for the company to fix a variety of defects now identified in almost nine million cars.
In announcing the latest recall of 437,000 Prius and Lexus 2010 hybrid models with a software glitch that affects the brakes, Akio Toyoda acknowledged that "people think we were slow to respond."
U.S. and Congressional investigators want to know why the Japanese car company waited at least a month to inform its customers and government agencies of the braking problem, well after it had introduced a fix to the software in cars being manufactured.
The Toyota CEO told reporters he "did not recall the exact month and day" when the company first learned of the brake problem with the Prius. "I consistently receive all sorts of information," he said. "If you ask when, the answer is this year."
Some Toyota owners in the United States have been in rebellion over the company's slow response to their complaints of unwanted and uncontrolled acceleration that resulted in runaway cars.
Since 2003, the company has received reports of more than 2,000 accidents and 19 deaths tied to the acceleration problem.
The Toyota CEO said he was now personally taking charge of the situation and promised to visit the United States soon "to explain the conditions and the situation to those people."
"Let me assure everyone," Toyoda said from the company's global headquarters, "that we will re-double our commitment to quality as a lifeline of our company with myself taking the lead."
In Japan, four hybrid models will be recalled – the 2010 Prius, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the Sai model sold in Japan and the Lexus HS250h. The latter three models were introduced in the country last year.
Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) will notify hybrid owners of the recall in Japan beginning today. Corrective programming to fix the ABS software program is expected to start Feb 10 in Japan. The fix process is estimated to take about 40 minutes per vehicle.
Details about notifying U.S. owners were not yet available.
Toyota Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki presented a detailed technical explanation of the brake problem during the press conference that lasted about two hours.
The executives advised customers with cars not already fixed to brake firmly as they said the problems have been from customers braking too softly.
"If you are riding on a vehicle before the counter measure," Toyoda said as translated, "and experience this release feeling, in that case, please apply further force on the brakes and it's safe."
Toyoda Strives to Gain Back Customer Loyalty
Toyoda, who will address Toyota employees about the situation when he visits the U.S., said he has not yet fixed his own Prius.
When asked by ABC News if any Toyota officials would be held responsible for the global recall Toyoda said, "In regards to responsibility, Toyota's responsibility is that we have to truly cooperate together to regain the trust of our customers."
"I don't personally believe Toyota is failure proof," Toyoda said as translated. " But when we receive inquires or reports from customers we make sure that all of those things are corrected and modified, (we) implement improvement so that we can provide better products for our customers. We have done that in the past and we will continue to do so in the future as well."
"We will do everything in our power," Toyoda said in English, "to gain the confidence of our customers."