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Toyota apologises for huge recall

2010-02-01 10:40

Tokyo - Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologised for the recall of millions of vehicles around the world, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported, as the deepening recall crisis threatened to further damage its sales and delay an earnings recovery.

"We're extremely sorry to have made customers uneasy," Toyoda said on Friday on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a brief clip on NHK showed.

"We plan to establish the facts and give an explanation that will remove customers' concerns as soon as possible."

Toyoda had been conspicuously silent since the top automaker's recall of cars related to unintended acceleration spread from North America to Europe and China this week.

As of Saturday, the global recalls of Toyota cars and trucks had swollen to about 7.5m vehicles, almost as many as it sold worldwide in 2009. Toyota has said the defective pedal was not used in any of its cars in Japan, Australia and Asia excluding China.

The total includes repairs for an issue involving floor mats becoming stuck under accelerator pedals.

Toyota has not recalled any cars in Japan, where it uses different suppliers.

With calls mounting for Toyoda to address the media on the escalating ordeal, the world's top automaker had said it was studying some form of comment or action from headquarters.

A company source told Reuters a news conference may be held early next week, prior to Toyota's announcement of third-quarter financial results on Feb. 4, but that the company was still working on a final plan. The source did not say whether Toyoda, or another executive, would hold the briefing.

Toyoda, a family scion who took up his post last June, last commented publicly on the matter in October, when he expressed regret for the deaths of four people in a California crash linked to the defects last year.

He has vowed to revamp Toyota's sprawling organisation to make problems at every level of operation more visible, as a rapid expansion over the last decade left it with too much production capacity when the economic crisis hammered car demand globally.

In an editorial, Japan's Asahi Shimbun said on Saturday that Toyota was skirting the responsibility to allay Japanese customers' anxiety over the safety issue, and that its brand image, crafted over years of effort, would be damaged.

"Toyota's response may indicate a growing complacency as the company has surpassed General Motors as the world's No.1 carmaker," it said.

Toyoda's tenure as head of the company founded by his grandfather is widely expected to last at least a decade given his relatively young age of 53.

Rivals close in

As part of the recalls, Toyota has been forced to suspend sales of eight models in the United States, including its Camry sedan, the best-selling car in the world's second-biggest auto market.

Sources briefed on Toyota's U.S. sales plans told Reuters on Friday the sales shutdown would continue until at least mid-February. A resumption assumes a smooth and swift rollout of a remedy to fix faulty accelerators in vehicles already sold or at dealerships, the sources said.

Competitors moved to profit from rising consumer frustration, readying plans to poach sales with incentives targeting Toyota customers. Ford, Hyundai , and Chrysler said they were rolling out incentives, following General Motors' lead.

Volkswagen, jockeying with Toyota for the title as global sales leader, is considering a similar move.  

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