Toyota chief apologizes for global recalls

There have been nearly 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S. of drivers experiencing a short delay before the brakes kick in -- a problem that can be fixed with a software programming change. (AP Photo)

February 5, 2010 7:06:28 PM PST
Toyota's president is speaking up in an appearance that can only fall under the "better late than never" category. After the recall of more than 8 million cars worldwide and weeks of silence, Toyota President Akio Toyoda is appealing directly to customers.

Toyoda held a quickly called news conference in Nagoya, Japan and Toyoda said, "I would like to take this opportunity to apologize from the bottom of my heart for causing many of our customers concern after the recalls across several models in several regions." He went on to say, "Believe me, Toyota cars are safe."

What the grandson of Toyota's founder did not announce, however, was a recall of the 2010 Prius, which has been linked to hundreds of brake problems. What he did do was pledge to set up and personally oversee a quality improvement task force that would involve outside experts to monitor quality management and other aspects of production.

Industry analysts say that is an aggressive step and should be considered a strong and commendable approach to what has become a crisis for the company.

Toyota dealers across the country, including in the Bay Area, are addressing numerous customer concerns, staying open late and hiring extra technicians to fix the pedal problems on eight Toyota models.

At Sunnyvale Toyota, at least six master diagnostics technicians are devoting themselves full time to make the fix it repairs on those recalled cars. They say each repair takes about half an hour and they should be able to do about 200 a day. After an initial panic, it seems most customers are driving their cars and scheduling an appointment that is convenient for them.

The uncertainty over a possible recall for the 2010 Prius and Lexus Hybrid have added one more wrinkle to the dealership headaches. Without an official recall, there is no announced fix for brakes that have been associated with a one second delay in engaging. That delay going 60 miles an hour can amount to about 80 feet of unintended travel distance. The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it has received 124 complaints from 2010 Prius drivers and four crashes have been associated with the braking problem.

The NHTSA has begun its own investigation at federal safety labs. A report from a Japanese newspaper states a Prius recall is coming soon, but it was not announced at Friday's news conference by Toyota President Akio Toyoda.