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Toyota President Akio Toyoda Tearful After Congressional Hearing, Vows To Regain Customer Trust

The president of Toyota Motor Corp. Akio Toyoda takes full responsibility for safety issues in the company’s car and vows that he is determined to regain the trust of the customers. He endured three hours of questioning by U.S. lawmakers in Washington. It was a rare sight indeed at the US congress on Wednesday. According to Reuters, “Akio Toyoda stood tearful under a giant display bearing the name of the company his legendary grandfather founded and spoke from the heart to cheering Toyota Motor Corp workers in Washington.”

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Akio Toyoda came to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee here on Capitol Hill in Washington DC to say he’s sorry for the deaths and injuries caused by Toyota’s faulty vehicles and to pledge change.

“As you well know, I am the grandson of the founder, and all the Toyota vehicles bear my name. For me, when the cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well. I, more than anyone, wish for Toyota’s cars to be safe, and for our customers to feel safe when they use our vehicles.”

Despite Toyoda’s apologies, however, his company is far from out of trouble, and some members of congress seemed dissatisfied with the explanations given by the automaker’s president for his company’s actions over the last few months.

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Photo Credit: AFP

He said he feared the speed with which Toyota had pursued the growth of its businesses was greater than the speed at which it was able to develop its people and organisation.

“I would like to point out here that Toyota’s priority has traditionally been the following: First; Safety, Second; Quality, and Third; Volume. These two priorities became confused and we were not able to stop, think, and make improvements as much as we were able to before, and our basic stance to listen to customers’ voices to make better products has weakened somewhat.”

Alongside Akio Toyoda was the president and CEO of Toyota North America. He said, “We now understand that we must think more from a customer first perspective, rather than a technical perspective in investigating complaints and that we must communicate faster, better and more effectively with our customers and our regulators.”

Mr. Toyoda came to Washington with one overarching goal: rebuild the confidence of American consumers whose business has fueled the phenomenal success of the company founded by his grandfather.

The 53-year-old Mr. Toyoda took responsibility for the company’s problems. “I myself, as well as Toyota, am not perfect,” Mr. Toyoda said in his opening remarks, speaking in English as he read from a statement. “We never run away from our problems or pretend we don’t notice them. I am deeply sorry for any accident that any Toyota driver has experienced.”

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Photo Credit: Xinhua/Zhang Jun

Whether Mr. Toyoda’s performance won over rattled consumers won’t be clear for weeks or months. But he did earn some respect from lawmakers.

“I want you to know that I am impressed by the fact that you came voluntarily before the committee,” said Mr. Towns, the panel’s chairman. “It indicates your commitment [to] making sure that these autos are safe.”

The Wall Street Journal reported:

On Wednesday, Mr. Toyoda stuck by the proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”—or, as they say in Japan, “When in a go [county], conform to that go.” He didn’t bow. He did absorb the blows.

“You’ll be able to brag about the fact that you withstood the interrogation of a congressional committee,” said Rep. Paul Kanjorski (D., Pa.), who then proceeded to lambaste Toyota for failing to act sooner to deal with safety problems and threw in a plug for the U.S. product-liability system. He said he expected Toyota “will be called upon under our system to pay compensation.”

That set off an exchange with Rep. Dan Burton (R., Ind.), who said: “Let me preface my remarks by saying we really need tort reform.” Mr. Kanjorski retorted: “We should just forgive these companies and let them kill our people?”

Mr. Toyoda looked puzzled.

As the hearing wore on, Mr. Toyoda spoke confidently in Japanese when he thought he understood the question. He listened to translated queries via an earphone, sometimes asking an interpreter for elaboration.

At last Toyoda said:

“I am deeply sorry for any accidents Toyota drivers have experienced.”

Again: “I sincerely regret accidents.”

According to Reuters:

“At the hearing, I was not alone. My colleagues in North America and around the world, were there with me,” the chief of the world biggest carmaker told dealers and employees at the National Press Club as he broke into tears.

At one point, Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, had a simple question and a visual aid: an accelerator pedal made for Toyota in Japan and one made in the United States. He wondered why they were different.

Speaking through his translator, Toyoda stepped way back to the big picture.

“As the congressman already knows, a car consists of some 20,000 to 30,000 parts and I would like you to first of all know we work together with suppliers in designing those parts.”

At the end, the intensely private Toyoda said he was not sure whether his appearance had achieved its aim.

“I believe Toyota has always worked for the benefit of the United States, and tried to convey that from the bottom of my heart,” he told the Toyota gathering at the press club. “I am not confident that the message was really broadly understood.”

Source: CNN, Reuters, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Al Jazeera

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