Toyota chief voices regret over fatalities

TOKYO – Toyota’s president said it was “extremely regrettable” an American family died in a crash in which a floor mat in one of the Japanese automaker’s vehicles is suspected as the cause.
“Four precious lives have been lost,” Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda said Friday. “I offer my deepest condolences.”
Without giving specifics, he said an investigation was under way into the problem which potentially affects 3.8 million Toyota vehicles in the U.S., and may cause the accelerator to get stuck. Toyota has issued a safety advisory urging owners of affected vehicles to remove driver-side mats.
Toyoda, who took helm at the world’s top automaker in June, told reporters in Tokyo that Toyota was cooperating with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the U.S. to investigate the cause of the August accident.
That crash killed California Highway Patrol Officer Mark Saylor, 45 – who was driving a Lexus, a Toyota luxury model – and three family members on State Route 125 outside San Diego.
Toyoda said the company was still deciding what action it would take and did not acknowledge any vehicle problem during his appearance at the Japan National Press Club.
He apologized for any worries customers may have.
“I feel sorry that people who are driving Toyota and Lexus cars believing in their safety are now feeling uncertainties,” he said.
Toyota has issued a safety advisory urging owners of 3.8 million car and trucks – including popular models like Camry, Prius and Tacoma – to remove driver-side mats. It wants drivers to watch out for loose or incorrect mats that could slide out of position and cover pedals.
NHTSA has said it had received reports of 102 incidents in which the accelerator may have become stuck in the Toyota vehicles involved. It was unclear how many led to crashes.
Near ‘rock bottom’
Toyoda, 53, grandson of Toyota’s founder, declined comment when asked whether floor mat problems could hurt sales and earnings.
Toyota’s global sales were battered by last year’s financial crisis but were gradually showing signs of recovery. Toyota is still expecting to stay in the red for the second straight fiscal year through March 2010.
Toyoda warned his company was in a “near rock-bottom” crisis, but said a comeback was possible. He said troubled companies look for “salvation,” but customers, not the president, are the only ones who can deliver it.
Toyota became the world’s top-selling automaker in 2008, dethroning General Motors Co. It had appeared on track to hit 10 million in annual global vehicle sales, but is now expecting to sell 7.3 million vehicles around the world this calendar year, down from 8.97 million vehicles last year.
“What’s important is each and every customer. That is my management philosophy,” said Toyoda.

The Associated Pres