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Toyota boss urges 'new start'

2010-03-05 09:18
Toyota President Akio Toyoda urged thousands of his employees Friday to work toward a new start and win back customer trust following safety lapses that have battered the world's biggest carmaker.

"Let's go with high spirits, have fun and be confident while staying humble," Toyoda, choking up and wearing a gray workman's jacket, told 2 000 workers packed into the company's headquarters. "We are making a start today."

His address, billed as "An Urgent Meeting for All Toyota - Toward a New Beginning for Toyota," was also watched via live video by 7 000 workers at company plants. Representatives of suppliers and dealers also attended the event in the Japanese city named after the automaker.

Toyoda returned to Japan earlier this week after being grilled by U.S. lawmakers in a congressional hearing on the spate of quality lapses that include braking problems and sticking gas pedals. The problems have resulted in global recalls of 8.5 million vehicles, 6 million of them in the U.S.

Other executives who appeared before congressional hearings on Toyota's recalls also attended Friday's event.

Workers heartbroken

The head of Toyota's North American sales unit, Jim Lentz, assured the crowd the company was working hard to restore customer trust. He urged all to be prepared for "a long road ahead" of harsh criticism.

Workers, who applauded executive speeches, said they were moved.

"I could feel the president's anguish, and I felt we all must work harder," Hideki Watanabe, 51, a Lexus engineer, said after the 45-minute meeting. "It breaks my heart to think that the cars we are making to bring joy to people might cause sorrow and accidents."

U.S. transport regulators have linked 52 deaths to crashes allegedly caused by sudden, unintended acceleration in Toyota cars.

An executive vice president, Takeshi Uchiyamada, said the Toyota brand was in "a serious crisis," acknowledging the company must improve monitoring of consumer complaints and respond more quickly during crises.

Toyota has been widely criticized, especially in the U.S., where most of the recalls have happened, as slow and unresponsive, and doubts are growing it may not be transparent or forthright about defects.

"The path to regaining trust remains tremendously difficult," Uchiyamada said. "But I would like to work with all of you."

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