TOKYO — Speaking out in response to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's probe into three of his company's recalls and the situation in general, Akio Toyoda alluded to the fact that the quality issues came from Toyota's rapid growth in manufacturing and marketing.
In fact, in a press conference today the Toyota Motor Corp. president announced he is establishing a Special Committee on Global Quality.
Toyoda said he will head this committee and will include chief quality officers from various regions.
"I have been considering the rapid growth in our manufacturing and marketing operations. And I have been eager to keep management and decision-making close to our customers. We need to be where we can hear directly from our customers. That will enable us to incorporate customer feedback swiftly in research and development and, as necessary, in hands-on measures in the marketplace, including product recalls," Toyoda said.
"To further promote this effort, the Special Committee on Global Quality, which I will head and which will include people in the post of chief quality officer from various regions, is now being set up. In the same spirit, we have strengthened our framework for conveying customer input from each region directly to our company's Quality Group and Product Development Group," he added.
Toyoda also said the company will implement a brake-override system to cut engine power when the accelerator and brake pedals are applied at the same time.
"We will also make more active use of event data recorders. This is because we have recognized that we should enhance our information-gathering capabilities and because analysis of onboard data is useful for improving quality," he explained.
Perhaps speaking directly to the NHTSA, Toyoda also said: "Safety standards and technical benchmarks usually form the basis for decision-making on recalls. But in the case of the Prius and other models, our highest priority was to provide customer reassurance. This prompted us to decide on a recall in a very short time."
According to federal law, all automakers are required to notify NHTSA within five days of discovering a safety defect exists and promptly take action.
This is what the U.S. government agency is reviewing, reaching out to Toyota for various documents to analyze the decision-making process and timeline behind the recalls.
In specific response to NHTSA's probe, the automaker said: "Toyota takes its responsibility to advance vehicle safety seriously and to alert government officials of any safety issue in a timely manner.
"We are reviewing NHTSA's request and will cooperate to provide all the information they have requested."
In other late-breaking news, apparently Toyota is now considering a recall of Corollas. A top executive with the company said they were investigating complaints about this model. However, he would give no details about model years and regions that could be impacted.
When it comes to the U.S. Congressional hearing on Toyota's quality issues, Toyoda indicated he would not appear, but instead top U.S. executives would speak.
NHTSA came out Tuesday saying that it launching a probe to discover if the automaker launched three of its recent recalls in a timely fashion.
The NHTSA said it is calling upon its statutory authority to obtain Toyota documents that detail when and how the automaker learned of the defects. The NHTSA will look at such documentation as consumer complaints and factory testing. Did Toyota discover the defect during pre-production or post-production?
This is pertinent because federal law requires all automakers to notify NHTSA within five days of discovering a safety defect exists and promptly take action.
Other topics up for scrutiny include whether the automaker has placed recalls for all affected vehicles. NHTSA wants to ensure that Toyota did not miss any problems.
The government agency will also review information on production data, incidents, complaints, warranty complaints, copies of tests, dates of meetings, timelines and supplier information.
In essence, it appears the NHTSA is looking to cover all bases in its search for information.
The recalls covered by this probe include two related to the gas pedal/floor mat issue, while the third recall involves the sticking gas pedal.
If an automaker is found at fault of violating its statutory obligations, it could be found liable for up to $16.4 million in civil penalties.
"Safety recalls are very serious matter and automakers are required to quickly report defects," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
"Our top priority is safety and we expect that all manufacturers address automotive safety issues quickly and in a forthright manner," added David Strickland, Administrator for the NHTSA.