Toyota looks into Corolla steering problems, president not attending US hearing

The Associated Press ~ staff The News
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TOKYO - Toyota is looking into possible power steering problems with the hot-selling Corolla subcompact while its president said Wednesday he won't be attending the U.S. Congressional hearing on the automaker's safety lapses.
"I trust that our officials in the U.S. will amply answer the questions," Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda told reporters. "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 U.S. unit, was more familiar with the U.S. situation and was the best man to deal with the hearing. Toyoda said he was still making plans to go to the U.S., but dates weren't set.
But in an alarming disclosure of a possible widening of Toyota's recall crisis, the Toyota executive in charge of quality controls, Shinichi Sasaki, said Toyota was taking seriously the complaints about problems in power-steering in the Corolla, the world's best-selling car.
He said the company is investigating what might be wrong. There have been fewer than 100 complaints, he said.
Toyota has 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.
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, Toyota Motor North America chief executive, 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.
Sasaki said drivers may perceive a strange feeling as though they were losing control over the steering, but it was unclear whether the problem was with the shifts in braking systems or a problem with the tires.
Speaking at Toyota's Tokyo office, he said the company was considering a recall, and was ready to come up with any needed fixes as soon as possible. The number of possibly affected vehicles is unclear, he said.
Toyoda reiterated his promise to put customers first in beefing 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.

Organizations: Toyota Motor, U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, House Energy and Commerce Committee NHTSA Science and Transportation Committee

Geographic location: U.S., TOKYO, U.S. Congressional

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