TOKYO – Toyota's top executive is expected to visit the United States in early March amid pressure from a Republican in the House of Representatives that the company's leader testify before Congress about the automaker's safety lapses.
Toyota confirmed Thursday that Akio Toyoda, Toyota's president and the grandson of the company's founder, was expected to visit the U.S. in early March to meet with government officials and members of Congress but said his schedule was still under discussion. The executive had previously said he intended to travel to America to meet Toyota workers and dealers in the aftermath of a global recall of 8.5 million vehicles.
Toyoda's trip is intended to reassure rattled car owners and company employees following the massive recalls, which have hurt the reputation of the world's No. 1 automaker and raised questions about how quickly Toyota responded to the safety problems. But his arrival in early March would come about a week after hearings by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold a Toyota hearing on March 2 but has not yet announced its witness list.
The Asahi daily said Friday Toyoda will attend U.S. congressional hearings to explain a string of safety and quality issues. But the major Japanese daily said it is unclear exactly which session Toyoda will attend.
Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi in Tokyo declined to confirm the report.
"Nothing has been decided on whether the president will attend hearings or not," she said.
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said Thursday that Toyoda should meet with lawmakers and suggested his committee hold another hearing with Toyoda as a witness. If necessary, Issa said, Congress should compel Toyoda's testimony.
"If we are not receiving the cooperation and transparency this committee and the American people are demanding from Toyota, I would fully support the issuance of a subpoena," Issa said. "We have a duty to determine what Toyota knew, when they knew it and if they met their full obligation of disclosure to U.S. regulators and the American people."
Democratic Rep. Edolphus Towns, who chairs the Oversight Committee, would decide whether to invite Toyoda or hold a second hearing. Jenny Thalheimer Rosenberg, a committee spokeswoman, said Towns had not made an announcement on additional witnesses but would speak to Issa about "his suggestion to bring Mr. Toyoda to testify at our February hearing or in the future."
Issa said a second hearing could also include testimony from transportation officials who served during the Bush administration.
Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said the company was "working cooperatively with the committees to meet their needs for information from Toyota."
The House Oversight Committee has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 24 and the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans one for Feb. 25. Yoshimi Inaba, the chairman and chief executive of Toyota Motor North America, is scheduled to appear at both sessions along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and David Strickland, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Toyoda has apologized several times for the recalls, most recently at a news conference Tuesday after the Toyota announced it was recalling 437,000 Prius and other hybrids over brake problems. Japanese media have criticized the company over its slowness and lack of clarity in explaining the series of embarrassing recalls. Japanese government officials have also criticized Toyota.
Toyoda wrote an opinion column in Tuesday's editions of The Washington Post, in which he promised an outside review of company operations, better responses to customer complaints and improved communication with federal officials.