During a highly anticipated hearing marked by pointed questions from lawmakers, Toyota executives apologized before Congress on Wednesday for breakdowns in their company’s products.

Toyota President and CEO Akio Toyoda, answering questions through an interpreter, said the company was “absolutely confident” that electronic systems were not to blame for the sudden acceleration in vehicles that has led to massive recalls. He added that measures taken by the company make Toyotas fit for the roads.


“No problem and malfunction has been identified, and therefore I am confident there is no problem in the design of the ETC system,” Toyoda said.

During an internationally watched hearing that dragged into the early evening, Toyoda and North America chief Yoshimi Inaba insisted the company accepted responsibility for its products’ “sticky accelerator” and other problems, and expressed contrition regarding victims injured or killed as a result of the problems.

 “Generally speaking, whenever a problem occurs, Toyota addresses those problems in the most genuine and sincere attitude,” Toyoda said.

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee stopped short of raking the executives over the coals, but expressed skepticism the company had done enough to address its product-safety issues.

“It’s one thing to say you’re sorry,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “It’s another thing when it seems that time after time there are pronouncements that problems are being addressed when it seems they’re actually not being addressed.”

Members of the committee also pointedly questioned whether the company’s current recall was too little and too late.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood struck a different pose in his testimony earlier on Wednesday, telling lawmakers that Toyota vehicles under the recall are “not safe.”

“I will say that if people check our website, we have listed every Toyota that is up for recall,” he said. “I want anybody who has one of those cars to take it to their dealer and make sure it gets fixed.”

Members of the committee sought answers as to when Toyota first became aware of its product malfunctions, and how quickly it reported them to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which had fielded reports of sticky accelerators as early as 2004.

Toyoda said he first learned of the problems in December of 2009, and that he couldn’t say for sure what other knowledge the company had before he became president in June 2009. But the CEO and Inaba rejected claims that Toyota might have obscured incidences of other malfunctions, maintaining that their company’s diffuse structure made it difficult to identify systemic problems with its vehicles.

Toyoda defended his company’s relationship and communications with NHTSA, which has also come under fire for its response to Toyota’s safety problems.

Inaba said Toyota was aware of evidence of sticky accelerators a year ago in Europe, but poor communication between different branches of the company slowed its identification of the problem.

“We did not hide it, but it was not properly shared,” he said.

LaHood defended NHTSA’s work in an appearance by himself before the committee, after having pulled NHTSA Administrator David Strickland from the hearing, a withdrawal LaHood said was due to Strickland’s only-weeks-old tenure atop the agency.

The secretary, a former Republican congressman from Illinois, rejected claims that NHTSA was too slow in responding to Toyota’s problems, as well as claims that the agency had too cozy of a relationship with the automaker, arguing that the agency had done its best to identify safety issues in Toyota products and that it would work “24/7” to ensure Toyotas’ safety.

Congressmen expressed skepticism, though, about whether the company and NHTSA had taken enough steps to address safety issues after becoming aware of the problems.

Rep. Paul Kanjorski (Pa.), the second-ranking Democrat on the committee, said that Toyota’s problems made the case for U.S. tort laws, which allow consumers to recover damages from companies whose products malfunction.

“This is a very embarrassing day for NHTSA,” said Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). “It’s equally an embarrassing day for Toyota.”

The Toyota executives outlined steps they said would address safety and quality issues going forward, including a new international quality assurance board and measures that would facilitate greater information-sharing about safety issues across borders.


Toyoda announced a new “Special Committee on Global Quality,” which he said he would head and would first meet on March 30 of this year and feature representation from the United States.

Inaba also admitted the company had done a poor job of connecting the dots between safety issues manifest in its product lines in different parts of the world.

“We should have done a better job of sharing that cross-regional defect information,” he said. “Going forward, what we are going to do — we are making now one American, we call product safety executive, as part of the global committee.”

This story was updated at 8:50 p.m.