Toyota chief apologizes for massive vehicle recall

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jan 30 2010 01:01 PM | Updated as of Jan 30 2010 09:01 PM

TOKYO - Toyota's president has apologized for the recall of millions of cars around the world due to faulty accelerator pedals, in a setback that has tarnished the Japanese giant's reputation for quality.

"We're extremely sorry to have made customers feel uneasy," Akio Toyoda told public broadcaster NHK on the sidelines of the Davos forum in Switzerland, in his first public remarks on the recall since it went global this week.

Toyota was trying to establish the facts behind the problem and give customers an explanation to ease their anxiety, he said.

Toyota pulled up to 1.8 million vehicles in Europe on Friday -- the latest in a series of recalls that have affected almost eight million Toyota cars worldwide -- more than its entire 2009 global sales of 7.8 million vehicles.

Toyota, which overtook General Motors in 2008 as the top-selling automaker, has been bedeviled by a series of safety issues that have raised questions about whether it sacrificed its legendary quality to become world number one.

Toyota's woes went into overdrive last week when it announced a recall of 2.3 million automobiles in the United States due to the accelerator pedal fears.

It is also recalling almost 5.3 million US vehicles to replace floor mats that could trap accelerator pedals.

At least 1.7 million of the cars already recalled outside Europe potentially suffer from both problems, according to Toyota.

In another hit to Japanese makers' reputation for safety, Honda recalled 646,000 of its cars worldwide Friday due to a potential fire risk linked to a window switch problem that is reported to have killed a child in South Africa.

The move affects Fit/Jazz cars made between 2002 and 2008 in Japan, China, Brazil, Thailand, Malaysia and India, Honda said.

Toyota for its part said Thursday that parts supplier CTS had begun making pedals based on a new design that resolved the problem and the two firms were testing a remedy.

Engineers were believed to be putting the finishing touches to a repair whereby it would insert a "spacer" in the pedal mechanism in order to increase the tension in a spring and reduce the risk of sticking.

Toyoda, the Toyota family scion named a year ago to steer the Japanese automaker through the global economic downturn, faces perhaps his biggest challenge yet handling a widening safety recall.

The Toyota president had kept a low profile during the week as the company founded by his grandfather more than 70 years ago battled to contain the fallout from the accelerator pedal problems.

How Toyoda -- an avid motor racing fan -- handles the quality problems is seen as key to his legacy and the future of the company, long lauded for its vehicles' safety and reliability.

The only statements posted on the company's global website this week relate the group's sales plan for next year and a tree-planting project in the Philippines.

Toyoda -- at 53 years old relatively young for a top Japanese executive -- was long groomed for the top job and became the first member of the founding family in 14 years to take the reins.

The family scion has put the brakes on Toyota's rapid expansion, which left it vulnerable to the global economic crisis.

Toyota's shares suffered another drop on Friday, closing down 1.96% at 3,490 yen -- having plunged about 14% during the week.

A key US House of Representatives panel said on Thursday that it would hold a hearing on the accelerator issues on February 25.