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Toyoda: Our rush to grow led to safety issues

By Ben Rooney, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Akio Toyoda, the president of Toyota, acknowledged in prepared remarks made public Tuesday that the automaker's efforts to expand resulted in lax safety standards and pledged new steps to ensure quality control.

Toyoda made the comments in a statement he is expected to deliver Wednesday before members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick," Toyoda said in the statement.

"We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organization," he said. "I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced."

Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide for problems related to sudden acceleration and unresponsive brake pedals, among other things. The company has repeatedly apologized for the safety lapses and is working to repair the recalled vehicles.

Toyoda, who is the grandson of the company's founder, reiterated his commitment to restoring Toyota's once-sterling reputation for safety.

"For me, when the cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well," Toyoda said. "I, more than anyone, wish for Toyota's cars to be safe, and for our customers to feel safe when they use our vehicles."

In response to the human toll of the company's safety problems, Toyoda extended his condolences to members of the Salyor family, who lost four members in a crash involving a recalled Toyota vehicle in San Diego.

"I would like to send my prayers again," Toyoda said. "And I will do everything in my power to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again."

To that end, Toyoda outlined some steps the company plans to take to improve quality control going forward.

Toyota will devise a system to convey customer complaints from around the world to the company's management in a timely manner, he said. It will also implement a system in which each region will be able to make recall decisions as necessary.

In addition, Toyota form a "quality advisory group" that Toyoda said will be "composed of respected outside experts from North America and around the world to ensure that we do not make a misguided decision."

Toyoda, who became the company's president in June, said the automaker will "invest heavily" in quality in the U.S. and will establish an Automotive Center of Quality Excellence and will introduce the new position of Product Safety Executive.

Separately, Yoshimi Inaba, the president of Toyota's North America division, said in prepared remarks for Wednesday's hearing that the automaker will work to "improve our dialogue with U.S. safety regulators."

"We now understand that we must think more from a customer first perspective rather than a technical perspective in investigating complaints," Inaba said. "We must communicate faster, better and more effectively with our customers and our regulators."

Toyota has been criticized for failing to move quickly enough to report customer complaints and for touting $100 million in savings from dodging a more extensive recall of the Toyota Camry and Lexus.

Meanwhile, Toyota Motor U.S. sales chief James Lentz is testifying Tuesday before the House committee on Energy and Commerce about the company's handling of the recall.

In a letter addressed to Lentz Monday, subcommittee chairman Bart Stupak, D-Mich., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., wrote that the committee's preliminary review of 75,000 pages of Toyota's internal company documents raises significant concerns.

Among them were signs that Toyota relied on flawed safety research and that some of the company's public statements about the adequacy of its recent recalls appear to be misleading.  To top of page

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