Toyota undecided on facing Congress

Firm says it will study electronic issues again

The Associated Press

Toyota said Monday it has still not decided whether its president will appear before the U.S. Congress, but it promised to again look into possible electronic problems with its vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been criticized as being slow in responding to the unfolding recall crisis, which has ballooned over the past four months to 8.5 million vehicles globally with problems in gas pedals, floor mats and braking.

Calls have been growing for Toyota President Akio Toyoda to answer questions from U.S. lawmakers. Toyoda told reporters last week he planned to go to the U.S., mainly to talk to American workers and dealers.

The company said details for his trip were still being worked out, and it was unclear when a decision could come.

In Washington, Republican Rep. Darrell Issa has said Toyoda should testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24.

The hearing was scheduled for Feb. 10 but was postponed because of a snowstorm.

In a letter to the committee last week, Toyota attorney Theodore Hester said the company carried out “exhaustive and robust” tests and does not think there are any electronics problems with its vehicles, but it promised to look into the matter again.

“In the spirit of the recent commitment made by Mr. Toyoda that our company will review all safety issues and potential safety issues with renewed vigor, we will be re-examining these complaints,” it said of the sudden acceleration complaints.

In Japan, where brand loyalty to Toyota remains relatively strong, the world’s biggest automaker has been trying to send a message of remorse to assuage consumers as well.

On Monday, it rolled out a new compact model called the Passo without the usual fanfare, such as an unveiling ceremony with entertainment and a news conference by executives.

Toyota suddenly canceled the planned event last week, acknowledging celebration was inappropriate amid the recalls.

Toyota said it had not yet received a notice from U.S. federal authorities about growing fears that the recalls may next expand to the Corolla.

“We have yet to be contacted by NHTSA regarding what has been reported in the press about a power-steering issue in the Corolla,” said Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is looking into complaints from drivers about difficulty with the steering in 2009 and 2010 Corollas.