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Toyota head prepares for US Congress grilling

Tokyo, February 19, 2010

The head of Toyota Motor Corp bowed to pressure to testify before US lawmakers and explain the company's safety crisis, becoming the highest profile Japanese executive to face such a grilling from Congress.

Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota's founder, said on Friday he intends to provide a "sincere explanation" of the problems that led to the recall of millions of vehicles when he testifies next Wednesday before a congressional panel.   

His decision ends days of uncertainty about how the embattled automaker would respond to calls for a better response to its safety issues. Toyoda originally said he had no intention to appear before Congress himself, drawing criticism from both industry analysts and Japanese politicians.

"Toyota gave the impression that it was not serious enough about the issue or taking the US market too lightly when it said Mr Toyoda had no imminent plans to travel to the United States," said Tsutomu Yamada, a market analyst at kabu.com Securities.
   

The US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee invited Toyoda on Thursday, a month into a safety crisis that has tarnished its reputation, hurt sales and sapped profits.

"It's good that he has decided to accept (the invitation)," Seiji Maehara, Japan's transport minister, said on Friday.  "But it's a shame there was flip-flopping on the decision."    

Toyoda had originally said he would send the company's North American chief to testify but later changed his plans. "I look forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people," the head of Japan's largest company and the world's No.1 automaker said in statement.

The last senior Japanese executive to give testimony before the US Congress was from tyre maker Bridgestone in 2000 following a series of crashes linked to the handling of some Ford Motor Co SUVs, according to media reports.

Toyoda said the firm is investigating the causes of the unintended acceleration and braking, which have led to a recall of about 8.5 million cars worldwide.   

Analysts and public relations experts stressed the need for Toyoda to speak clearly, and honestly, in his testimony. By appearing to dodge questions, he could further stain Toyota's reputation, they said. -Reuters




Tags: Toyota | carmaker | Toyoda |

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