Akio Toyoda calls recalls a turning point for company

Toyoda: "Recalls are not about concealing problems we find. It's about improving the product and coming up with counter measures."
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TOKYO -- A day after his company agreed to pay a record $1.2 billion to settle a criminal probe into safety issues, the head of Toyota Motor Corp. called the preceding recalls a turning point for the carmaker.

The recalls marked a shift in how Toyota and the industry think about safety, President Akio Toyoda said. It’s no longer just about passing regulations but about delivering a sense of security.

“The criteria for recalls used to be compliance with laws or whether there are technical problems,” Toyoda said at a regular news conference of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, of which he is chairman. “Now, I think it has become whether the products can assure customers peace of mind.”

Recalls, in and of themselves, are not bad, he said.

“Recalls are not about concealing problems we find. It’s about improving the product and coming up with countermeasures,” Toyoda said. “It’s a good thing from the long-term perspective of the automotive industry’s sustainable development.”

Toyoda’s comments came after his company reached a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice to resolve a criminal probe into cases of unintended acceleration in its vehicles.

The problems triggered a series of recalls in late 2009 and early 2010 that enveloped millions of vehicles worldwide.

Under the settlement, Toyota admitted to misleading the public about the issue and concealing part of the problem.

Toyoda declined to comment directly on the settlement.

But he said that Toyota has overhauled its approach to quality.

“I think it provided a turning point for us to go back to our basic philosophy of ‘customers come first,’” he said. “It is getting more and more important to handle recalls by seeing things from our customers’ point of view.”

You can reach Hans Greimel at hgreimel@crain.com. -- Follow Hans on Twitter

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