Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda's Apology: 'I Take Full Responsibility'

No bowing, but humble approach contrasts with charge Toyota was 'safety deaf'

ByABC News
February 23, 2010, 5:15 PM

Feb. 24, 2010 — -- The CEO of Toyota, Akio Toyoda, told Congress he took "full responsibility" for the safety defects in the company's cars that have been linked to the deaths of 39 Americans.

Toyoda did not bow in apology as he had repeatedly in his appearances in Japan, but he struck a humble tone in contrast to allegations the company had been arrogant, indifferent and "safety deaf."

"I myself, as well as Toyota, am not perfect," the 52-year old grandson of the company founder said.

"I, more than anyone, wish for our customers' cars to be safe," he said.

Toyoda again apologized for the deaths of four people in a runaway Toyota last year in San Diego and pledged he would insist on "customer safety first."

Toyoda was accompanied by at least 20 other Toyota executives, lawyers and lobbyists who have been struggling to find a way to end the crisis that has badly damaged the car company.

But as members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform questioned Toyoda, the exchanges were often lost in translation as the Toyota CEO switched to Japanese and answered through a translator.

"Is that a yes, or a no?" asked committee chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns, D.-N.Y., as he sought to learn if Toyota would add brake over-ride features to all of the Toyota models kin production and currently on the road.

Ranking Republican member Rep. Darrell Issa, R.-Calif., sought to rephrase the question but was still unable to get a definitive answer from Toyoda or another company executive who appeared to speak more fluent English.

In earlier testimony, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood said Toyota had "dragged its feet" and been "safety deaf" until he personally called Toyoda to warn him he needed to provide quicker and better responses to "dangerous" safety defects.

Among the witnesses scheduled for Wednesday's hearing is volunteer firefighter Kevin Haggerty, who says Toyota has yet to explain to him why his Avalon went out of control. As first reported by ABC News, Haggerty was on a New Jersey interstate in December when he says his car began to accelerate, but by shifting in and out of neutral, he was able to make it to his local Toyota dealer so he could show the dealer what was going on.

"The brakes were smoking, the tires were smoking, just from riding the brakes for the last five miles," Haggerty told ABC News.

Haggerty says he believes his car had an electronic glitch but that Toyota tried to blame the problem on a sticky gas pedal.

There have been thousands of complaints like Haggerty's.

At Tuesday's hearing of the House Commerce Committee, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood vowed to the House Commerce Committee that his agency would do a "comprehensive, down-in-the-weeds" review of Toyota electronics.

"We will not rest until we finally find out if electronics are a part of this problem," said LaHood.

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