| -

NEW YORK and WASHINGTON, D.C. — On the same day Toyota sent two top executives to Capitol Hill to testify before a Senate committee, the automaker named a former federal Secretary of Transportation to head a panel to examine its quality and safety issues.

Toyota Motor North America tapped Rodney Slater on Tuesday to oversee its North American Quality Advisory Panel. The manufacturer said that Slater's team will work closely with Toyota's North American leadership contingent and have direct access to Toyota president Akio Toyoda.

The OEM created this panel of experts to evaluate the electronic throttle control system (ECTS-i) installed in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. The company stressed that the panel's findings will be made public.

For its ETCS-i evaluation, the automaker indicated that this panel can access the results of extensive testing previously conducted by Toyota as well as a comprehensive, independent study being undertaken by Exponent, a leading engineering and scientific consulting firm located in Palo Alto, Calif.

Furthermore, Toyota stressed that the panel can commission any additional outside reviews it deems necessary. The manufacturer promised the panel an unlimited budget to pursue its mandate.

"Over the years, Toyota engineers have extensively tested our electronic throttle control system and have never confirmed a single case where the ETCS-i was the cause of unintended acceleration," explained Yoshi Inaba, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America.

"Nevertheless, given the recent speculation and concerns regarding unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, we believe it is essential to provide our customers and the general public with additional confidence in the integrity of our electronic systems," Inaba continued.

Now entering the situation will be Slater, who served as Secretary of Transportation from February 1997 until January 2001 under President Bill Clinton. Recently, Slater was a partner in a public policy law firm, Patton Boggs LLP based in Washington, D.C.  His focus was on promoting a more secure, environmentally sound and sustainable global transportation infrastructure. 

"I am pleased that Secretary Slater has accepted our invitation to lead the distinguished group of safety and quality experts who will help Toyota to improve its quality controls in North America," Inaba noted.

"We are committed to more transparency regarding our safety and quality controls, and the independent advisers will have our full cooperation and access to any information they believe they need," he added.

Testifying Before the Senate

Meanwhile in front of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Toyota presented two more executives who defended its vehicles' electronic throttle control system and other business practices.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, executive vice president and Toyota's chief engineer, refuted previously given testimony on Capitol Hill about unintended acceleration in recalled units.

"While concerns have been raised about our electronic throttle control system, this system — used by all major automakers — actually represents a great safety advancement, enabling superior traction control and electronic stability control, among other things," Uchiyamada shared in prepared remarks.

"Because the ETCS controls the engine throttle system, Toyota places the greatest importance on ensuring that the reliability of this system is absolute by undertaking rigorous design and testing processes. Three things ensure this absolute reliability. The first is the fail-safe mechanisms we build into the design. Second is its tolerance to extreme environmental conditions. And third is its resistance to software problems," Uchiyamada explained.

"In addition, we test the software in this system extensively both in the design phase and after it is developed to ensure that there is no possibility of ‘sudden unintended acceleration,'" he went on to say.

"I want to be absolutely clear: As a result of our extensive testing, we do not believe sudden unintended acceleration because of a defect in our ETCS has ever happened. However, will continue to search for any event in which such a failure could occur," Uchiyamada added.

In another portion of the hearing, Shinichi Sasaki, executive vice president for quality assurance and customer service at Toyota, told the committee in prepared remarks what he described as "outline the significant ways in which Toyota is changing its approach to customer safety in light of the lessons we have learned from our recent recalls."

Sasaki began by stating Toyota was redoubling its commitment to put customers and safety first as well as to communicate better with U.S. safety regulators.

"Toyota has rigorously tested the solutions for our recent recalls and we are confident that with the repairs our dealerships are making, Toyota vehicles are among the safest on the road today. However, as we look to the future, we need to ensure that we listen more closely to our customers' voices, consider their concerns seriously and sincerely, and address them more quickly and aggressively," Sasaki explained.

"To accomplish this, we are fundamentally overhauling Toyota's quality assurance process, under the personal direction of our President, Akio Toyoda. This overhaul will cover the entire quality assurance process from vehicle planning and design to manufacturing, sales and service," he continued.

"The quality and safety of our vehicles are Toyota's lifeline. I will do my utmost to make sure that our vehicles remain among the safest and most reliable in the world by leading and training all Toyota quality and safety personnel in the United States and all other areas," Sasaki added.

Both Uchiyamada and Sasaki reiterated pledges to work closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other federal officials to complete any recall procedures and boost consumer confidence in Toyota vehicles.

"We look forward to working with NHTSA and with Congress to advance our shared goal of improved road safety for drivers and the general public," Sasaki concluded.