Toyota U.S. sales chief promises quality shake-up

WASHINGTON Tue Feb 23, 2010 6:03am EST

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp's top-ranking American executive apologized on Tuesday for what he called unacceptable delays in coming to terms with recent safety issues and "poor communication" with U.S. regulators and consumers.

"We acknowledge these mistakes, we apologize for them and we have learned from them," said Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota's U.S. sales arm.

"We now understand that we must think differently when investigating complaints and communicate faster, better and more effectively with our customers and our regulators," Lentz said in testimony prepared for his appearance before a congressional committee investigating Toyota's safety crisis.

Toyota has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles globally in recent months for problems including sticky accelerators, accelerators that can be pinned down by loose floor mats and a braking glitch affecting its hybrid models.

On Monday, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee had rebuked Toyota and singled Lentz out for criticism for what the panel called potentially "misleading" communication about its recent safety recalls.

The committee also criticized Toyota for rejecting suggestions that problems with unintended acceleration could be rooted in electronic control systems used by the automaker, without the company making a thorough review.

In his prepared testimony for the committee, Lentz said Toyota would share the results of a "comprehensive evaluation" of the automaker's electronic throttle controls that it has commissioned from an outside engineering consultant, Exponent, as soon as those results are complete.

"We are confident that no problems exist with the electronic throttle control system in our vehicles," Lentz said.

Lentz also pledged Toyota would add to its network of technical offices in the United States to respond "faster and more aggressively" to reports of safety problems in its vehicles.

(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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