TOYOTA CITY, Japan (Reuters) -- Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda apologized to shareholders for the car maker's recall troubles and promised a fresh start with a growth strategy built on emerging markets and environmental leadership.
Chairing the annual shareholders' meeting, Toyoda opened his remarks on Thursday with an apology for what has become the worst quality crisis in Toyota's history involving recalls of more than 10 million cars since late last year, mostly for problems of unintended acceleration.
"I would like to apologize once again for all the worries we have caused our shareholders," Toyoda, grandson of the automaker's founder, told the more than 3,000 shareholders who made the trip to Toyota's headquarters in Toyota City.
"But we've managed to post a profit after a year of losses and I feel like we are finally at the starting line this year," he said.
In contrast to Toyoda's own first year at the helm, the two-hour-long shareholders' meeting ended with few ripples. Some shareholders voiced words of encouragement even as Toyota faces potential civil liability estimated at more than $10 billion from lawsuits in the United States.
And unlike at rival Nissan Motor Co.'s annual general meeting the day before, no mention was made of executive compensation. Toyota's 38 directors, all Japanese, made 37.5 million yen ($417,000) on average last year, a fraction of the 980 million yen ($9.8 million) Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn took home.
The meeting had its moments of light humor, when one shareholder chided the 54-year-old Toyoda for crying in public, referring to his tearful, televised speech to a gathering of U.S. dealers after a grilling in Congress in late February.
"Mr. Toyoda, you've been all over the media this year and you've gone teary-eyed on several occasions," the shareholder said. "For a man of your position, this is unacceptable. Please keep your chin up and try not to weep!" he pleaded.
An unfazed Toyoda quickly responded, with a hint of self-deprecating humor, that he would "try not to go teary-eyed" in public again, but justifying them as "tears of joy" when he perceived the dealers' support at the end of a trying month of attacks from lawmakers and media.
Toyoda and other executives recapped the steps Toyota was taking to prevent a repeat of the recall debacle, including giving more autonomy to its regional operations to speed up the process of quality fixes.
As part of those efforts, Toyota on Thursday appointed several local managers to senior positions at its overseas affiliates.
It said in a statement Didier Leroy, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Europe, would be promoted on July 1 to become the first European, non-Japanese to head the unit. He will replace Tadashi Arashima, who will retire.
In the United States, Toyota also appointed presidents for manufacturing companies in Texas and Kentucky, among others.
After a $2 billion hit to its earnings last year from the recall fallout, Toyota has forecast a much slower-than-expected recovery in earnings this year, held back by a stronger yen. It expects an operating profit of 280 billion yen for the year ending in March 2011, up from 147.5 billion yen posted last year.