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ECONOMICS REPORT - 'I Am Deeply Sorry,' Toyota Chief Tells US Congress

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Toyota President Akio Toyoda
Toyota President Akio Toyoda

This is the VOA Special English Economics Report.

In Washington, Congress will again discuss the safety problems at Toyota. On Tuesday, a Senate committee will examine the recent safety recalls and the government's response.

The House of Representatives held two days of hearings this week. On Wednesday lawmakers questioned Akio Toyoda, the head of the company since June.

AKIO TOYODA: "I am deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced."

Defects have been linked to at least thirty-nine deaths over the past several years. Toyota has recalled more than eight million vehicles worldwide over a risk of gaining speed suddenly and uncontrollably.

Toyota is Japan's biggest company and in two thousand eight it passed General Motors as the world's biggest carmaker. But Akio Toyoda said his company paid too much attention to growth and not enough to safety.

AKIO TOYODA: "Toyota has, for the past few years, been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick."

The grandson of the company's founder rejected the possibility that the acceleration problem is related to the electronic controls in his vehicles. The company has blamed problems with the accelerator pedal and badly positioned floor mats.

But this week, lawmakers released a company document showing Toyota had saved one hundred million dollars by negotiating a limited recall over the issue. The document listed that deal among several "wins" for Toyota.

The document added to criticisms that federal officials did not act aggressively enough against Toyota. But others say Toyota is being treated unfairly because the government now owns sixty percent of General Motors.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood was questioned earlier in the day and dismissed that idea. He praised the agency that deals with auto industry recalls, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA.

RAY LAHOOD: "Over just the last three years, NHTSA’s defect and compliance investigations have resulted in five hundred twenty-four recalls involving twenty-three million vehicles. We haven't been sitting around on our hands. When people complain, we investigate."

Rhonda Smith of Tennessee described how in two thousand six her Toyota-made Lexus sped up for a time to one hundred sixty kilometers an hour.

RHONDA SMITH: "And I prayed to God to help me."

NHTSA blamed a floor mat, but she blames the electronics and says Toyota dismissed her concerns.

Ray LaHood says his department will investigate the electronics used by Toyota and other automakers. And Akio Toyoda promised a new level of openness and speed in dealing with safety issues.

And that's the VOA Special English Economics Report, written by Mario Ritter. I'm Steve Ember.

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