Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda raised his right hand and promised to tell the truth. Then, speaking in English, he apologized to Congress — and millions of American Toyota owners — for safety lapses that led to deaths and widespread recalls for accelerator and braking failures.
"I'm deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced," said the grandson of the founder of the world's largest automaker.
Amid a phalanx of cameras, Toyoda, dressed in a dark suit, walked into the committee room briskly.
House committee chairman Edolphus Towns welcomed Toyoda and thanked him for volunteering to testify.
"We're very impressed with that. It shows your commitment to safety as well," Towns said.
Toyoda pledged his company would change the way it handles consumer complaints, including seeking greater input from drivers and outside safety experts when considering recalls. Toyota managers will also drive cars under investigation to experience potential problems first hand, he said.
He suggested his company's "priorities became confused" in its quest for growth over the past decade at the expense of safety concerns.
Toyoda read from prepared remarks, remarks that had been released the day before.
"My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers," Toyoda said. He delivered his short remarks clearly in somewhat accented English. However, when the questioning session began, he switched to Japanese with the help of a translator.
Asked by Towns if Toyota has divulged all safety information it has to U.S. officials, Toyoda said through the interpreter, "We fully share the information we have with the authorities."
Appearing with him was Yoshimi Inaba, head of Toyota Motor North America. "We are committed not only to fixing vehicles on the road and ensuring they are safe, but to making our new vehicles better and even more reliable through a redoubled focus on putting our customers first," Inaba said.
Moments before Toyoda's arrival, dozens of photographers sat on the floor in front of the witness table, waiting for the automotive scion. About a dozen TV cameramen were ushered in by an aide, their cameras almost colliding with each other as they rushed to get good spots. "Easy, easy! Slow it down," someone called out.
At 2:20 p.m., a stonefaced Toyoda entered the committee room from a side doorway, trailed by the female interpreter and Inaba. He walked down two steps, past the desks of two congressmen and into the swarm of photographers amid a cascading sound of clicking camera shutters.
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