Tokyo happy Toyota

JAPAN’S transport minister, Seiji Maehara, has expressed relief at Toyota president, Akio Toyoda’s decision to testify in US Congressional hearings on Wednesday.

“It’s good that he has decided to accept [the invitation]. This is a safety issue on which people’s lives depend and it’s a manufacturers duty to respond firmly,” minister Seiji Maehara told a news conference. “But it’s a shame there was flip-flopping on the decision.”

The U-turn follows extensive pressure from US politicians and the media including one sternly-worded letter from New York Democratic congressman Edolphus Towns who told Toyoda American drivers were “unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars, or what they should do about it”.

The original plan to send the automaker’s North American chief Yoshimi Inaba instead would have been yet another bad PR call by the company since their health and safety crisis broke out in January this year.

Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder, is expected to face intense scrutiny at the hearing.

Toyoda said: “I believe this is an opportunity for me to give a sincere explanation, which I have been doing in Japan, to send the message across the world. I will humbly take in any criticism against our compliance.”

Last week Toyota was forced into the embarrassing admission it grew too fast too soon and that as a result had failed to develop appropriate engineering skills.

Toyota said it would improve quality standards by installing brake-over ride systems on all future models and appoint a chief quality officer to each major geographical region..