'Heavy Snow' Delays Toyota Chief's Trip to U.S.

Japanese carmaker Toyota said Friday its president Akio Toyoda, under pressure to face the U.S. Congress over a series of massive recalls, had postponed his planned visit to the United States until around early March.

"The president was planning to go to Washington as early as February 10 but was forced to change it due to heavy snow. At the moment he plans to reschedule it to around early March," company spokeswoman Mieko Iwasaki said.

She declined to say whether Toyoda would miss a congressional hearing on the automaker's safety problems set for February 24.

The top Republican on a House committee looking into the company's handling of dangerous defects said Wednesday he would ask the panel's chairman to invite Toyoda to take part in the February 24 hearing.

U.S. Representative Darrell Issa said U.S. lawmakers were eager to "hear directly" from the Toyota chief about the auto giant's woes.

The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform had set a hearing for February 10, but put it off because of a winter storm lashing Washington and an intervening congressional recess next week.

Toyota, the world's biggest carmaker, has been accused in the United States of dragging its feet on responding to the accelerator and brake problems behind the recalls of more than eight million vehicles worldwide.

Toyota faces a host of class action lawsuits in the United States, where Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood vowed Wednesday to hold Toyota's "feet to the fire."

Toyota's North America president Yoshimi Inaba is scheduled to appear at the February 24 hearing. Further congressional hearings on the matter are also scheduled for the following day and on March 2.

The Asahi Shimbun reported Friday that Toyoda planned to face the U.S. Congress but was waiting for a formal invitation before making a firm decision.