WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda accepted an invitation to testify next week before a congressional committee that is investigating the automaker's safety problems.
“I have received Congressman Towns' invitation to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 24 and I accept," Toyoda said in an e-mailed statement late Thursday. "I look forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people.”
Committee Chairman Ed Towns, D-N.Y. sent a letter Thursday that asked Toyoda to help clear up confusion about how consumers should respond to the automaker's difficulties.
"The public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it," wrote Towns.
Toyoda's consent marks a turnabout from earlier in the week, when he indicated he would bow out of U.S. hearings. He said the company's North America chief, Yoshimi Inaba, was the best person for that job and suggested he himself would stay on the sidelines.
“Mr. Inaba and our executives in North America have my highest level of trust, and I am sure they are well equipped to respond,” Toyoda, 53, said at a Wednesday news conference. “I will focus on internal reform to improve quality and support Inaba from our headquarters.”
Toyoda's planned testimony comes as the world's biggest carmaker grapples with a snowballing quality crisis that has resulted in the recall of 8.5 million vehicles since last fall.
Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, was widely criticized for remaining silent on the safety lapses until early this month, when he held his first news conference to address it. Since then, he has held two more press appearances and has said that he would be at the “forefront” in dealing with the emergency.
The president has repeatedly said he would travel to the United States to rally workers, dealers and suppliers as the company tries to win back public trust. The timing of the trip had not been announced, but he may combine it with his Congressional appearance.
Inaba and U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were already due to testify Feb. 24.
Toyoda held a short briefing for reporters in Nagoya after the announcement that he would attend the hearing. He said he decided to go after getting the formal invitation.
"Now that I have received an official request from the chairman, I'd like to take advantage of the opportunity," Toyoda said. "I'd like to cooperate fully and try to explain our situation."
"The No. 1 thing in my mind is regaining the trust of our customers in terms of the safety of our vehicles," Toyoda added.
A Toyota spokesman did not know whether Toyoda would speak in English at the hearing or speak in his native Japanese and rely on an interpreter.
Separately, the House Energy Committee said its witnesses for the first Toyota hearing on Tuesday, Feb. 23, would be Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President James Lentz and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Strickland.