Toyota president expected to travel to US in March

WASHINGTON (AP) - Toyota's top executive is expected to visit
the United States in early March amid pressure from a House
Republican that the company's leader testify before Congress about
the automaker's safety lapses.
Toyota confirmed Thursday that Akio Toyoda, Toyota's president
and the grandson of the company's founder, was expected to visit
the U.S. in early March to meet with government officials and
members of Congress but said his schedule was still under
discussion. The executive had previously said he intended to travel
to America to meet Toyota workers and dealers in the aftermath of a
global recall of 8.5 million vehicles.
Toyoda's trip is intended to reassure rattled car owners and
company employees following the massive recalls, which have hurt
the reputation of the world's No. 1 automaker and raised questions
about how quickly Toyota responded to the safety problems. But his
arrival in early March would come about a week after hearings by
the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House
Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold a Toyota
hearing on March 2 but has not yet announced its witness list.
The Asahi daily said Friday Toyoda will attend U.S.
congressional hearings to explain a string of safety and quality
issues. But the major Japanese daily said it is unclear exactly
which session Toyoda will attend.
Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi in Tokyo declined to confirm
the report.
"Nothing has been decided on whether the president will attend
hearings or not," she said.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the
Oversight Committee, said Thursday that Toyoda should meet with
lawmakers and suggested his committee hold another hearing with
Toyoda as a witness. If necessary, Issa said, Congress should
compel Toyoda's testimony.
"If we are not receiving the cooperation and transparency this
committee and the American people are demanding from Toyota, I
would fully support the issuance of a subpoena," Issa said. "We
have a duty to determine what Toyota knew, when they knew it and if
they met their full obligation of disclosure to U.S. regulators and
the American people."
Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., who chairs the Oversight Committee,
would decide whether to invite Toyoda or hold a second hearing.
Jenny Thalheimer Rosenberg, a committee spokeswoman, said Towns had
not made an announcement on additional witnesses but would speak to
Issa about "his suggestion to bring Mr. Toyoda to testify at our
February hearing or in the future."
Issa said a second hearing could also include testimony from
transportation officials who served during the Bush administration.
Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said the company was "working
cooperatively with the committees to meet their needs for
information from Toyota."
The House Oversight Committee has scheduled a hearing for Feb.
24 and the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans one for Feb.
25. Yoshimi Inaba, the chairman and chief executive of Toyota Motor
North America, is scheduled to appear at both sessions along with
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and David Strickland, who heads
the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Toyoda has apologized several times for the recalls, most
recently at a news conference Tuesday after the Toyota announced it
was recalling 437,000 Prius and other hybrids over brake problems.
Japanese media have criticized the company over its slowness and
lack of clarity in explaining the series of embarrassing recalls.
Japanese government officials have also criticized Toyota.
Toyoda wrote an opinion column in Tuesday's editions of The
Washington Post, in which he promised an outside review of company
operations, better responses to customer complaints and improved
communication with federal officials.
Olsen reported from Tokyo.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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