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News photo
Masatami Takimoto –
, a senior vice president at Toyota Motor Corp., and other Toyota executives bow Thursday at a news conference in Tokyo in apology over the firm’s delay of eight years in revealing a defect in the Hilux Surf.

Toyota was largely silent about whether officials in charge of quality control knew for eight years about the steering defect in the Hilux Surf sport utility vehicle before issuing a recall, saying the investigation is still ongoing.

Toyota Senior Vice President Masatami Takimoto told a room packed with reporters that Toyota believed there were no problems in the way its employees handled the case.

On July 11, Kumamoto Prefectural Police turned over to prosecutors a case against three Toyota officials who, they allege, knew about the defective tie rod in 1996 but did not recall the model for eight years, until the problem caused an accident that injured five people.

The world’s second-largest automaker issued a recall of 330,000 Hilux Surf vehicles in October 2004, two months after a driver lost control of his Hilux Surf and collided head-on with another car in Kumamoto Prefecture.

“We first would like to express our sympathy to those injured in the accident,” Takimoto said after meeting transport ministry officials to explain how Toyota was handling the case. “Since the case was made public, we have received many inquiries from our customers who are worried about the safety of their cars.”

Reporters’ questions centered on why Toyota stated that it had received only 11 reports on the defect in 2004 when it issued a recall, when it had been reported that there had been more than 80 complaints.

Toyota admitted that if all the information — including refund requests for local garage charges in which people asked for a refund for what they paid to have the defect repaired — is combined, the figure for defect reports from consumers was 82 cases — 46 in Japan and 36 overseas.

Takimoto said that only 11 cases were cited in public because of the company’s report evaluation system. He said consumer reports of auto defects are put into one of three categories according to the accuracy of the information received. Toyota only mentioned the 11 classified as the most accurate.

Toyota said it had received five reports by 1996 on the defect in the SUV’s steering system that could be classified as accurate. The automaker said it overlooked those reports in 2004 because at the time, it was only keeping documents related to safety for five years. Toyota now keeps its safety-related documents for 10 years.

Takimoto said that most of those five cases involved limited problems, including when parking. The 46 Japanese steering defect complaints Toyota has admitted to include the 11 reports announced when the 2004 recall was issued and the five cases reported prior to 1996. However, Toyota said it does not have any detailed information on the remaining 30 cases.

Reprimand, but that’s it The Associated Press The government will reprimand Toyota for failing to act more quickly in a recall case that is now under criminal investigation, but authorities determined no laws were broken and no fines will be imposed, a ministry official said Thursday.

Japan’s biggest automaker will be issued administrative “guidance” — or a public scolding — and demand that Toyota make improvements on its recall procedures, according to a Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport official who spoke on on condition of anonymity.

Public prosecutors, however, may still file charges against Toyota.

1,200 unit MMC recall

Mitsubishi Motors said Thursday that it recalled more than 1,200 domestically sold cars due to fuel tank defects.

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