• Kyodo

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Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda will testify before a U.S. House of Representatives panel looking into the carmaker’s safety problems next week, the company announced Thursday.

The decision to attend next Wednesday’s House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing followed a formal invitation by its chairman, Rep. Edolphus Towns, a Democrat from New York.

“I look forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people,” Toyoda said in a statement.

Meanwhile sources said Friday that during the closely watched testimony, Toyoda is expected to explain newly outlined quality reforms, including its goal to have on-site inspections within 24 hours of any reported product malfunction in the United States.

Separately Friday, Toyoda told reporters in Nagoya, where the carmaker is headquartered, he will testify with “full sincerity” at the U.S. congressional hearing. “I will be happy to attend,” he said.

The House committee will hold a hearing titled “Toyota gas pedals: Is the public at risk?” at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

The hearing will examine safety issues related to Toyota’s massive recalls of popular models due to faulty gas pedals and the U.S. government’s response to the recalls, the committee said.

The committee said it will try to “gain a better understanding of the nature of the sudden acceleration problem in Toyota vehicles and what should be done about it.”

Chairman Towns and oversight committee member Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, welcomed Toyoda’s decision. “We believe his testimony will be helpful in understanding the actions Toyota is taking to ensure the safety of American drivers,” the two said in a joint statement.

In an invitation letter to Toyoda, Towns wrote, “There is widespread public concern regarding reports of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota motor vehicles,” according to the House committee.

“There appears to be growing public confusion regarding which vehicles may be affected and how people should respond. In short, the public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it,” Towns said. “To help clarify this situation, I am inviting you to testify” at the hearing, the chairman added.

Initially, Toyoda was reluctant to attend the hearing. In Tokyo on Wednesday, he told reporters he would not appear before the hearing and said Toyota Motor North America Inc. President Yoshimi Inaba would be the best person to do so.

U.S. lawmakers harshly criticized the remark.

Later Thursday, the House oversight committee issued a subpoena for “all documents relating to Toyota motor vehicle safety and Toyota’s handling of alleged motor vehicle defects and related litigation” in the possession of Dimitrios Biller, who served as the national managing counsel for Toyota’s U.S. operations between 2003 and 2007.

“The committee is conducting a comprehensive, fact-based investigation with the intent of collecting and analyzing as much relevant information as possible,” Towns and Issa said in another joint statement.

Inaba and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are also expected to testify before the oversight committee.

The hearing by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be preceded by a hearing sponsored by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, which will also deal with the Toyota safety woes.

President of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. Jim Lentz and David Strickland, administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, plan to speak before the energy committee hearing.

Meanwhile, NHTSA, the U.S. auto safety regulator, said Thursday it has launched a preliminary probe into the problem of power steering of the Corolla.

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