Toyota CEO emerges from silence, outlines current woes, Prius, Lexus plans

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Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, speaking for the first time since his embattled company has recalled millions of its vehicles and is considering further recalls with Prius and perhaps Lexus models, has outlined the Japanese manufacturer’s plans.

Here are the key points of what Toyoda, the grandson of the Toyota founder, said at a news conference in Nagoya, Japan, late Friday, which was shown at Toyota’s Tokyo office by satellite feed. Also included are other key points of the current Toyota scandal:

* Toyota’s president apologized for the automaker’s global recalls and promised to beef up quality control by setting up a special committee he would head himself.

* Toyota is still deciding what to do to fix braking problems with the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid. The automaker has acknowledged the new Prius that went on sale in May last year has braking problems and a recall is being considered in the U.S. and Japan.

* The problems with the Prius, Toyota’s flagship model and symbol of its technological prowess and green car ambitions, follow a global recall announced Jan. 21 for 4.5 million vehicles with gas pedals that stick and can cause sudden acceleration.

* The brake problem has been fixed with a software programming change for Prius vehicles sold in Japan and overseas since late January but not for vehicles sold before then, according to Toyota.

* The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it would assess the scope of the problem in the Prius and the safety risk to about 37,000 cars that could be affected. Toyota, however, has said it sold 103,000 of the new Prius in the U.S. since May last year.

* The biggest story splashed across front pages of major dailies and on TV news Friday was the retirement of a well-known sumo wrestler, forced to step down for drunken behavior. Toyota news was relegated far below that.

* U.S. officials have blessed Toyota’s solution to the gas pedal problem, a small piece of steel designed to eliminate excess friction in the pedal mechanism, but have criticized Toyota for being too slow in responding to customer complaints.

* Toyota is investigating possible brake problems with its luxury Lexus hybrid and the Sai compact sedan. Both use the same brake system as the Prius. Toyota has not received any complaints about the Lexus HS250h and the probe is to ensure safety. The Sai is not sold outside Japan.

* Congressional investigators expanded their review of Toyota to include the Prius as California Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight Committee, asked Toyota for records on its Prius brakes.

* Toyota said some Prius drivers have complained of an inconsistent feel during slow and steady application of brakes on rough or slick roads when the antilock brakes engage. Normally, the brakes grab and release rapidly in reaction to slipping tires.

* NHTSA said some Prius owners reported a “brief lag” or “brief surge” when braking. The agency did not specify how long those lags were. At highway speeds, a car can travel nearly 100 feet (30 meters) in just one second. The problem is suspected in four crashes resulting in two minor injuries, according to a preliminary NHTSA safety report.

The Toyota Camry, one of eight models in the current recall, was Toyota’s most popular car n the U.S. in 2009 with about 357,000 units sold. The Prius was Toyota’s third-largest seller (140,000), and the country’s the most popular hybrid. The Toyota Corolla, the carmaker’s second-most popular car in the U.S. and also on the recall list, is the best-selling car in history, with more than 35 million sold.

 

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