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Toyota CEO: 'I'm deeply sorry'

Photo by Tori Boone

Photo by Tori Boone

WASHINGTON -- Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda apologized on Wednesday to Congress -- and millions of American Toyota owners -- for safety lapses that led to deaths and widespread recalls for accelerator and braking failures. But he disputed claims by some safety experts that the cars' electronic throttles might be at fault.

''I'm deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced,'' said the grandson of the founder of the world's largest automaker.

Amid a phalanx of cameras, Toyoda, dressed in a dark suit, stood before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, raised his right hand and promised to tell the truth.

House committee chairman Edolphus Towns welcomed him and thanked him for volunteering to testify.

''We're very impressed with that. It shows your commitment to safety as well,'' Towns said.

Toyoda pledged his company would change the way it handles consumer complaints, including seeking greater input from drivers and outside safety experts when considering recalls. Toyota managers will also drive cars under investigation to experience potential problems first hand, he said.

He suggested his company's ''priorities became confused'' in its quest for growth over the past decade at the expense of safety concerns.

Toyoda told the panel he was ''absolutely confident'' there was no problem with the electronics of Toyota vehicles and repeated the company's stance that sudden accelerations were caused by either a sticking gas pedal or a misplaced floor mat.

Toyota has recalled 8.5 million vehicles, mostly to fix problems with floor mats trapping gas pedals or with pedals getting stuck.

In addition, Toyoda said the company is making changes so brake pedals can override a sudden acceleration and bring a runaway vehicle to a safe stop.

Toyoda read from prepared remarks that had been released the day before.

''My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers,'' he said. He delivered his short remarks clearly in somewhat accented English. However, when the questioning session began, he switched to Japanese with the help of a translator.

Asked by Towns if Toyota has divulged all safety information it has to U.S. officials, Toyoda said through the interpreter, ''We fully share the information we have with the authorities.''

Appearing with him was Yoshimi Inaba, head of Toyota Motor North America. ''We are committed not only to fixing vehicles on the road and ensuring they are safe, but to making our new vehicles better and even more reliable through a redoubled focus on putting our customers first,'' Inaba said.