TOYOTA, Japan -- Toyota's brand is in crisis but its cars are safe, top executives told thousands of workers at a meeting Friday aimed at boosting morale amid the automaker's recall crisis.

Two thousand workers gathered at Toyota's headquarters in the Japanese city named after the automaker and some 7,000 more watched at factories via live video feed. Suppliers and dealers also attended the event, billed as "an urgent meeting for all Toyota -- Toward a New Beginning for Toyota."

The world's No. 1 automaker has recalled 8.5 million vehicles worldwide in the past few months for braking problems, sticking gas pedals and faulty floor mats -- damaging its reputation for quality.

As executives spoke, workers wearing pale gray jackets applauded.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, executive vice president, said the Toyota brand was in "a serious crisis" and acknowledged Toyota must improve its monitoring of consumer complaints and do better at crisis management.

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

Jim Lentz, the head of Toyota's North American sales unit, assured the crowd the company was working hard to restore customer trust.

Lentz said he was "proud to represent Toyota," at the recent U.S. congressional hearing over quality lapses, and urged all to be prepared for "a long road ahead" of harsh criticism.

"We are confident that Toyota vehicles are safe," he said.