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Again! Toyota may recall Corolla over steering problem

Source: africanexaminer.com

Tokyo -Toyota is considering a recall of its hot-selling Corolla subcompact after

complaints about power steering problems — another blow to the world's largest

automaker already reeling from a string of recalls for safety troubles.

Despite pressure from some lawmakers, President Akio Toyoda said he won't be

attending the U.S. congressional hearing on the automaker's quality lapses, entrusting

the job to U.S.-based executives — though would consider an appearance if the

committee requests it. He said he wanted to focus on improving quality worldwide.

"I trust that our officials in the U.S. will amply answer the questions," Toyoda said

Wednesday in his third news conference in two weeks. "We are sending the best people

to the hearing, and I hope to back up the efforts from headquarters."

He said Yoshi Inaba, who heads Toyota Motor Corp.'s North American unit, was more

familiar with the U.S. situation and was the best executive to deal with the hearing. Toyoda

said he was still making plans to go to the U.S. and dates have yet to be set.

But in an alarming disclosure that could widen Toyota's recall crisis, the executive in

charge of quality controls, Shinichi Sasaki, said Toyota was taking seriously the

complaints about power-steering problems in the Corolla, the world's best-selling car.

Speaking at Toyota's Tokyo office, Sasaki said the company was putting customers first in

a renewed effort to salvage its reputation and would do whatever is necessary if a Corolla

fix is needed.
He said it was still uncertain if a Corolla recall would be necessary, but it is an option the

automaker is considering.
He didn't disclose model years or regions that could be affected and said there have been

fewer than 100 complaints. Toyota sold nearly 1.3 million Corolla cars worldwide last year.

Drivers may feel as though they were losing control over the steering, but it was unclear

why, Sasaki said. He mentioned problems with the braking system or tires as possible

underlying reasons for the steering problem.
U.S. federal safety officials have also said they are examining complaints from Corolla

owners about steering problems.
Toyota has already recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past four months

because of problems with sticking gas pedals, floor mats trapping accelerators and faulty

brake programming.
Its once pristine reputation for quality has been hammered, and Toyota's share of the

critical North American market has nose-dived. Last month was the first time since

February 1998 that Toyota's monthly U.S. sales fell below 100,000 vehicles, according to

Ward's AutoInfoBank.
Koji Endo, managing director at Advanced Research Japan, said the Corolla problems, if

they expand into a recall, would deal another major blow to Toyota.

"If Toyota has to recall Corollas, I wouldn't be surprised if they have to recall more than a

million units again. It's going to be another big, big negative," said Endo.

But others said Toyota was sending a message it was going to be quick and thorough

about maintaining quality.
"It really shows the company has learned its lesson from the recall debacle by starting to

announce every investigation far more quickly," said Ryoichi Saito, auto analyst at Mizuho

Investors Securities Co. in Tokyo.
Analysts had mixed views about Toyoda's reluctance to show up at Congress — some

critical but others saying it was OK.
Unlike Western chief executives, Japanese presidents are not always expected to be an

authoritative figure and play more of a team leader role in a culture that values harmony

and consensus. That role is even more pronounced for Toyoda, the grandson of the

company's founder who holds special significance for rank-and-file workers and dealers in

Japan.
The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing on

Feb. 24 on Toyota's gas pedal problems. The House Energy and Commerce Committee

has scheduled one the next day.
Inaba, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NHTSA Administrator David Strickland

are expected to testify at both meetings. The Senate Commerce, Science and

Transportation Committee has scheduled a March 2 hearing.

At Wednesday's news conference, a solemn Toyoda reiterated his promise beef up

quality controls at the world's No. 1 automaker.
He promised a brake-override system in all future models worldwide that will add a safety

measure against acceleration problems that are behind the recent massive recalls. The

system is a mechanism that overrides the accelerator if the gas and brake pedals are

pressed at the same time.
"We are not covering up anything, and we are not running away from anything," Toyoda

said.
The automaker said it was also dealing with questions about whether the gas pedal flaw

was electronic and reiterated its investigation has not found any electronic problems.

But it has commissioned an independent research organization to test its electronic

throttle system, and will release the findings as they become available.

Scrutiny of Toyota is growing. The U.S. Transportation Department has demanded Toyota

hand over documents related to its massive recalls. The department wants to know how

long the automaker knew of safety defects before taking action.

Reports of deaths in the U.S. connected to sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles have

surged in recent weeks, with the alleged death toll reaching 34 since 2000, according to

new consumer data gathered by the U.S. government.
Toyota told NHTSA in January that the problem appeared in Europe beginning in

December 2008. Toyota has said it began fixes on that in August 2009, but the company

failed to link that with gas pedal problems in the U.S., which surfaced in October 2009.

Toyota took full-page ads in major Japanese newspapers Wednesday to apologize for the

recalls in Japan, which affect the flagship Prius hybrid and two other hybrid models.

"We apologize from the bottom of our hearts for the great inconvenience and worries that

we have caused you all," the black-and-white ads say.

Source: AP

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