The president of Toyota Motor Corp said on Friday he intends to give a sincere explanation about the company's series of safety recalls when he testifies in front of U.S. lawmakers next week.
Akio Toyoda, the grandson of Toyota's founder, accepted an invitation to testify next Wednesday before a congressional panel. His decision ends days of uncertainty about how the embattled automaker would respond to calls for a better response over its safety issues.
Toyoda told reporters in the central Japanese city of Nagoya that he wanted to that the firm is looking for the causes that led to the recall of about 8.5 million cars worldwide for problems with unintended acceleration and braking, Kyodo News reported.
I look forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people, Toyoda said in a statement ahead of the news conference.
Toyoda previously told reporters that he would send the company's North American chief, Yoshimi Inaba, and that he had no plans to appear before congress himself.
The U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee invited Toyoda on Thursday, a month into a safety crisis that has tarnished its reputation, hurt sales and sapped profits.
Toyota gave the impression that it was not serious enough about the issue or taking the U.S. market too lightly when it said Mr. Toyoda had no imminent plans to travel to the United States, said Tsutomu Yamada, a market analyst at kabu.com Securities.
Shares of Toyota were little changed in Tokyo trade on Friday, having fallen some 20 percent since January 21, wiping out more than $25 billion in market capitalization.
Toyota has recalled more than 6 million vehicles in the U.S. market for problems involving the accelerator pedal becoming stuck, either by a loose floor mat or because of a glitch in the pedal assembly.
Up to 34 crash deaths have been blamed on unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles since 2000, according to complaints tracked by U.S. regulators.
A separate recall is under way to fix software controlling the brakes on Toyota's Prius hybrid.
Toyoda, just seven months into his tenure in the top job at the automaker, has at times appeared uneasy with the heightened scrutiny.
The House oversight panel said it had also issued a subpoena for internal documents Toyota had fought to keep sealed in a legal battle with a former employee who says the automaker routinely hid evidence of safety problems.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration hoped Toyota would do all it could to rectify a dangerous situation.
Everybody, I think, is rightly concerned about the recalls that have happened, Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One.
Representative Edolphus Towns, chairman of the oversight panel and Representative Darrell Issa, ranking Republican, said they were pleased Toyoda had agreed to answer questions.
We believe his testimony will be helpful in understanding the actions Toyota is taking to ensure the safety of American drivers, they said in a joint statement.
The House oversight hearing on Wednesday is one of two congressional inquiries set for next week into the Toyota safety crisis. On Tuesday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee will hold its own hearing.
The oversight panel has asked insurers for information they provided to U.S. safety regulators on reports of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles.
Toyota's safety woes are deepening at a time when automakers worldwide are struggling to emerge from a deep decline in sales -- led by a collapse in the U.S. market -- that prompted bankruptcies and consolidation.
Toyota's U.S. sales dropped 16 percent in January and are expected to take a big hit in February as well.
(Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Helen Massy-Beresford in Paris, Jeff Mason and Caren Bohan aboard Air Force One; writing by Kevin Krolicki and David Dolan; Editing by Lincoln Feast)