LaHood, Top Toyota Executives Face Oversight Panel

Posted February 24, 2010 at 2:47pm

Toyota Motor Corp.’s top executive assured House investigators on Wednesday that his company is not withholding crucial information from federal regulators, while Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood pledged to hold the Japanese automaker accountable for safety problems.

“All of the information we have we have shared with the authorities,” Toyota President Akio Toyoda told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday through an interpreter.

In a rare Congressional appearance by a foreign executive, Toyoda on Wednesday attempted to soothe public outrage over mechanical malfunctions in 14 models made by the world’s biggest car company. To date, the company has recalled roughly 5.3 million of its cars because of faulty gas pedal and braking systems.

In his testimony, Toyoda took responsibility for the malfunctioning gas pedals, which company officials have attributed to “sticky” gas pedals and bulky floor mats. Akio’s deputy, Toyota Motor North America Inc. President and CEO Yoshimi Inaba, told lawmakers on Wednesday that the recall fixes “are effective and durable.”

“We are confident that vehicles whose drivers are not experiencing any issues with their accelerator pedal are safe to drive, and Toyota dealers are rapidly completing the repairs on our customers’ vehicles,” Inaba said.

Earlier on Wednesday, LaHood, a former GOP House Member from Illinois, endured nearly three hours of questioning involving the Toyota recalls. For now, LaHood told lawmakers that his agency agrees with Toyota that mechanical errors — and not software malfunctions — are to blame.

“We don’t have evidence right now to say conclusively that there are electronics problems,” LaHood said.

In a lively back-and-forth with his former colleagues, LaHood also called Toyota “safety deaf” to customers concerns but called Toyoda’s appearance before the panel “a game changer.”

“We’re going to hold Toyota’s feet to the fire,” LaHood told the panel.