Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda came to Washington Wednesday to publicly apologize to Congress for safety lapses that led to the recall of 8.5 million cars. A House committee chairman said blame must be shared by both Toyota and U.S. safety regulators.
Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) failed to follow through aggressively on thousands of complaints dating back a decade about sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
NHTSA is part of the Transportation Department.
"NHTSA failed the taxpayers and Toyota failed their customers," Towns declared ahead of eagerly awaited testimony by the company's chief executive.
Toyoda, the automaker's 53-year-old scion of the Toyoto empire, readied testimony apologizing for the problem and acknowledging that the world's largest automaker grew too fast to keep up with safety controls
"We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization," he said. "I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced."
Despite Toyota's repeated apologies, lawmakers of both parties have expressed skepticism over whether enough is being done by the company or federal regulators to protect the millions of Toyota drivers.
Towns asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood a question on behalf all of those Toyota owners and drivers: Are the cars safe to drive?
"We have listed every Toyota that's up for recall" on the Transportation Department Web site, LaHood said. "I want anybody who has one of those cars to take it to the dealer and make sure it gets fixed."
LaHood said those vehicles on the recall list posted on his department's Website, http://www.dot.gov, "are not safe."
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the leading Republican on the investigative panel, waved a gas pedal before LaHood and complained that Toyota knew about problems of sticking gas pedals and improperly placed floor mats years ago and made some fixes on models sold in Japan but delayed addressing the problems on other cars, including some of its most popular models, until just recently.
Toyoda was to be the second witness to appear before the panel and was not in the room during opening statements by members and LaHood's testimony.
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