WASHINGTON -- Toyota Motor Corp. executives will tell lawmakers today that the company is delegating authority more over U.S. recalls and other safety measures to its North American unit.
Toyota's U.S. staff “will have a clear decision-making role” with regard to vehicle recalls, and technical branches will be added in several U.S. cities to speed on-site inspections of unintended acceleration incidents, Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki said in remarks prepared for a Senate hearing today.
“Ultimately, our goal is for the United States to have an even greater voice in decisions on recalls and other safety and satisfaction issues,” said Sasaki, who is responsible for quality assurance and customer service at Toyota.
The transfer of regional safety authority from Japan responds to sharp criticism last week from U.S. lawmakers and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. LaHood praised the company's North American executives but said they often weren't heard by their “safety-deaf” superiors in Japan.
Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President James Lentz also testified last week that the company's Japanese headquarters had total authority over U.S. recalls.
An advance copy of Sasaki's testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee was distributed by Toyota.
The automaker's North American president, Yoshimi Inaba, said in his prepared testimony that changes being made by the company will allow it to "better share" quality and safety information across its global operations and with regulators.
An independent review panel headed by Rodney Slater, transportation secretary in the Clinton administration, would assess the changes to ensure they "conform to best industry practices," Inaba said.
The electronics debate
In other testimony to be given today, Toyota's chief engineer will reiterate the company's longstanding position that electronic sensors in its vehicles don't interfere with their acceleration.
“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 (engine throttle control systems) has ever happened,” says Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada.
Today's Senate hearing on Toyota's response to safety defects follows two House hearings on the same topic last week.
Lawmakers expressed frustration last week over Toyota President Akio Toyoda's testimony that there are no electronic defects in the company's vehicles that might contribute to unintended acceleration.
A Southern Illinois University professor told lawmakers that he was able to introduce the equivalent of shorts in Toyota's circuits that were not detected by the vehicles' fail-safe controls.
Toyota has hired the Exponent consulting firm to test whether electronic defects could interfere with acceleration in the company's vehicles.
Reuters contributed to this report.