Hoping to coax Toyota Motor Corp.'s top executive to a hearing, a congressional leader issued a personal appeal Thursday to Akio Toyoda, the automaker's president.
Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) said he had sent a personal invitation to Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, hoping to persuade the executive to testify about Toyota's recalls at an upcoming hearing of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
At a news conference Wednesday in Tokyo, Toyoda said he did not plan to address those issues on Capitol Hill personally -- at least not yet. He said he would not travel to Washington for the hearings, to be held Wednesday.
Toyoda expressed full confidence in Toyota's North American chief, Yoshimi Inaba, who he indicated would attend the hearing. The House Energy and Commerce Committee also plans to hold a hearing on Toyota's auto problems next week.
"As you know, there is widespread public concern regarding reports of sudden unintended acceleration in Toyota motor vehicles," Towns wrote Toyoda. "Toyota has recalled millions of its vehicles and even halted production. In addition, there are reports that this problem may have been the direct cause of serious injury and even death.
"There appears to be growing public confusion regarding which vehicles may be affected and how people should respond. In short, the public is unsure as to what exactly the problem is, whether it is safe to drive their cars or what they should do about it," the congressman said. "To help clarify this situation, I am inviting you to testify."
Toyoda's reluctance to come to Washington has sparked the ire of several congressional leaders.
"Akio Toyoda doesn't get it that he's got plenty of good engineers to fix the problem. He needs to set the tone and fix the public's confidence," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista), the top Republican on the House committee panel.
Toyota has issued about 10 million recall notices worldwide, mostly for floor mats that can entrap the gas pedal and for a gas pedal that can stick. It has blamed both problems for causing unintended acceleration.
The Japanese automaker is considering recalling the popular Corolla because of potential steering problems. And the National Highway Safety Traffic Administration is about to launch a probe into steering problems with about 500,000 late-model Corollas, a move that could lead to another large recall. The agency also has launched an inquiry into the speed of the company's response to problems and the adequacy of its recalls.
Toyota sold almost 1.3-million Corollas worldwide last year, including nearly 300,000 in the United States. The Corolla trailed only Toyota's Camry as the second-bestselling car in the U.S. last year, according to Autodata Corp.