Beleaguered Toyota president to answer questions

By Yuri Kageyama/The Associated Press

TOKYO — Toyota announced its president will answer more questions on the beleaguered company’s massive global recall at a press conference Wednesday after being lambasted for being largely invisible during the crisis.

Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda — who may appear before U.S. Congressional hearings later this month — will give updates on the global recall of some 400,000 Prius gas-electric hybrids at the Tokyo news conference, the company said Tuesday.

Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past four months because of problems with gas pedals, floor mats and brakes, threatening the safety and quality reputation of the world’s No. 1 automaker.

Complaints of deaths connected to sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles have surged in recent weeks, with the alleged death toll reaching 34 since 2000, according to new consumer data gathered by the U.S. government.

Complaints to a database maintained by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the popular Prius grew by nearly 1,000 in just over a week.

Calls have been growing for 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.

Criticized for initially being largely invisible, Toyoda has appeared at two recent news conferences, where he has apologized for the recalls and promised to be more responsive to customers.

At the Wednesday press briefing, Toyota will outline repair efforts on antilock-brake software for its other hybrid models including the Sai, sold only in Japan, and the luxury Lexus HS250h, the national newspaper Yomiuri reported. Repairs may begin as early as the end of the week in Japan, it said.

Toyota declined comment saying details were still being worked out.

Toyota’s global recalls for various models — including the Camry, America’s best-selling model, and the Prius, its prized ecological car — have ballooned around the world.

The company has been trying to reassure consumers by quickly releasing details about its recalls after being criticized for being slow.

Vice President Bob Carter told reporters at the National Automobile Dealers Association Convention in Orlando, Florida that dealers have fixed more than 500,000 of the 2.3 million cars and trucks covered by the sticky gas pedal recall. About 50,000 vehicles are being repaired every day, he said.

Carter said the company was considering offering incentives or increasing the length of its warranties to attract consumers. Toyota already is offering zero percent financing for 60 months in some of its regions, as well as cash to dealers to help sweeten deals, he said.

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Associated Press writers Tom Krisher in Orlando, Florida and Ken Thomas in Washington contributed to this report.