WASHINGTON - Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda had a cordial and open meeting on Thursday with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood before thanking workers in Kentucky for supporting him during his appearance before Congress.
Your presence there gave me strength, Toyoda said to workers, some of whom were among hundreds of employees, dealers and others who traveled to the nation's capital to bolster Toyota and him personally during hearings into recalls and other safety questions engulfing the company founded by his grandfather.
It inspired me, Toyoda said at the Georgetown facility before expressing thanks from the bottom of my heart.
Clad in a red sweater with a Toyota logo, Toyoda talked and shook hands with workers on the assembly line.
Earlier, Toyoda met in Washington for 30 minutes with LaHood, the Obama administration's top transportation official who testified along with the executive on Wednesday before the House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
They had a cordial and open discussion, Toyota said in a statement.
He (Toyoda) reiterated his focus on putting customers first and making sure that going forward the company will do all it can to further improve communications and work more closely with the department, Toyota said.
A LaHood aide characterized the first face-to-face meeting as productive.
The two spoke earlier in the month when LaHood, who has called Toyota Motor a little safety deaf, phoned Toyoda to convey his concerns.
Toyoda told lawmakers on Wednesday that he took personal responsibility for the crisis.
LaHood has said he would hold Toyoda to his pledge to take safety concerns seriously.
Toyota has recalled more than 6 million cars and trucks in the U.S. in recent months for loose floor mats that can jam the accelerator and for gas pedals that will not spring back as designed.
Regulators believe floor mats are linked to at least five crash deaths, with 29 other consumer reports under review alleging fatalities associated with unintended acceleration.
U.S. regulators and Toyota also are looking into whether there are problems with electronic throttles. Toyota has said those systems are sound, and NHTSA found no problems in previous reviews.
But Congress has questioned whether regulators probed hard enough on unintended acceleration over the years and whether NHTSA has the expertise to handle investigations into the sophisticated electronic systems equipped in today's vehicles.
Separately on Thursday, the Senate Commerce Committee released its witness list for next Tuesday's hearing focusing on Toyota recalls with special emphasis on the role of regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Toyota North America President Yoshimi Inaba and LaHood will highlight testimony. Senators also will hear from Toyota's executive vice president for quality control, Shinichi Sasaki, and David Strickland, NHTSA administrator.
Inaba also testified alongside Toyoda at the House Oversight and Government Reform hearing.
(Reporting by John Crawley and Nobuhiro Kubo, editing by Maureen Bavdek and Carol Bishopric)