Toyota Motor  President Akio Toyoda has ordered the creation of a temporary task force to improve internal and external communication as the automaker seeks to restore confidence in its damaged reputation.

Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, is mired in a quality crisis that threatens a long-lasting hit to its image and sales, exacerbated by what many saw as a bungling of its communication with regulators and consumers since it expanded a series of recalls a month ago.

The task force, called BR (Business Reform) Communication Kaizen Department, was formed on February 17 and is to be headed by Managing Officer Osamu Nagata, who previously oversaw two domestic factories, Toyota said in a statement on Friday. Kaizen is a Japanese word meaning improvement.

U.S. safety regulators and some lawmakers have criticized Toyota for taking too long to address the defects that eventually led to the recall of more than 8 million cars globally and which have been linked to at least five deaths in the United States.

Toyoda himself, the grandson of the company's founder, had also come under fire for waiting weeks before addressing the media about the safety slips, initially sending his quality chief to speak to reporters instead.

Since then, Toyoda has held three news conferences in Japan and has become one of the world's most visible chief executives as he testified before a U.S. congressional committee this week.

We have recently come under intense criticism, especially in the United States, Toyota spokeswoman Ririko Takeuchi said.

The task force is being formed to improve communications with all of our stakeholders globally, working across the corporate structure, she said.

Nagata, 52, will report directly to President Toyoda. Having joined Toyota in 1980, Nagata worked in the public relations department between 1997 and 1998, and was based in Kentucky for six years as vice president of Toyota's North American production arm, now called Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America.

(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Hugh Lawson)