Toyota President Denies Hiding Safety Problems From U.S. Regulators

At a press conference in Nagoya, Japan, Friday, Toyota president Akio Toyoda apologized for his company's massive worldwide recalls and said the automaker would improve quality by setting up a special committee. He said Toyota had not yet decided whether it would expand its recalls to include the Prius hybrid.

"We have caused lots of concern and worry and we are sorry," said Toyoda, who until the press conference had kept a low profile, doing only a brief interview with Japanese television. Toyoda said he would personally head the quality committee. The executive who oversees quality, Shinichi Sasaki, added that the committee would also include outside experts.

At the press conference, ABC News asked Toyoda in English if his company had withheld safety information from U.S. regulators. Toyoda answered in Japanese. "As a company, our intention is to sincerely give 100 percent cooperation," said Toyoda. "We want to make our best effort to deal with this matter for our customers' security and safety."

Toyota President Apologizes for Recalls

ABC News reported Thursday that former government regulators working for Toyota in the U.S. had met and negotiated with government safety officials prior to investigations of safety issues with Toyota, and that the ensuing investigations were very narrow in scope. A former Toyota lawyer also told ABC News that the automaker had tried to hide safety problems from consumers, which Toyota denies.

Toyota has instituted recalls affecting millions of U.S. vehicles, saying that ill-fitting floor mats and sticky gas pedals were responsible for random acceleration incidents. Safety experts have suggested there may also be a problem with the electronics that control acceleration in the cars. Toyota has said there is no problem with the electronics.

Earlier this week, Toyota acknowledged problems with brakes on the Prius, and said it had instituted a software fix on some vehicles prior to sale. It has not yet recalled Priuses already sold to make the fix.

On Friday, Toyoda and Sasaki both said repeatedly that they had done their best and they were sorry for causing worry to drivers. "Please believe me," said Toyoda, "we always put the customer first. It's our first priority. I'm trying to do this work as soon as possible and with the cooperation and of our employees and our suppliers and the dealers."

Asked if he should have acted more quickly, Toyoda said, "I will do my best."

Miki Toda contributed to this report.

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