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Toyota chief set to visit US

GOP lawmaker seeks testimony before Congress

Toyota announced this week that it was recalling 437,000 Priuses and other hybrids over brake problems. Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president, has apologized for all the problems. Toyota announced this week that it was recalling 437,000 Priuses and other hybrids over brake problems. Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president, has apologized for all the problems. (Steve Hockstein/Bloomberg News)
By Ken Thomas and Kelly Olsen
Associated Press / February 12, 2010

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WASHINGTON - Toyota’s top executive is expected to visit the United States in early March amid pressure from a House Republican that the company’s leader testify before Congress about the automaker’s safety lapses.

Toyota confirmed yesterday that Akio Toyoda, Toyota’s president and the grandson of the company’s founder, was expected to visit the United States in early March to meet with government officials and members of Congress but said his schedule was still under discussion. The executive had previously said he intended to travel to America to meet Toyota workers and dealers in the aftermath of a global recall of 8.5 million vehicles.

Toyoda’s trip is intended to reassure rattled car owners and company employees after the massive recalls, which has hurt the reputation of the world’s No. 1 automaker and raised questions about how quickly Toyota responded to the safety problems.

But his arrival would come about a week after hearings by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The Senate Commerce Committee is expected to hold a Toyota hearing on March 2 but has not yet announced its witness list.

Representative Darrell Issa of California, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said yesterday that Toyoda should meet with lawmakers and suggested his committee hold another hearing with Toyoda as a witness. If necessary, Issa said, Congress should compel Toyoda’s testimony.

“If we are not receiving the cooperation and transparency this committee and the American people are demanding from Toyota, I would fully support the issuance of a subpoena,’’ Issa said. “We have a duty to determine what Toyota knew, when they knew it and if they met their full obligation of disclosure to US regulators and the American people.’’

Representative Edolphus Towns, a New York Democrat who chairs the Oversight Committee, would decide whether to invite Toyoda or hold a second hearing.

Issa said a second hearing could also include testimony from transportation officials who served during the Bush administration.

Toyota spokeswoman Cindy Knight said the company was “working cooperatively with the committees to meet their needs for information from Toyota.’’

The House Oversight Committee has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 24 and the House Energy and Commerce Committee plans one for Feb. 25. Yoshimi Inaba, chairman and chief executive of Toyota Motor North America, is scheduled to appear at both sessions along with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and David Strickland, who heads the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.