WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuteres) - Akio Toyoda stood tearful under a giant display bearing the name of the company his legendary grandfather founded and spoke from the heart to cheering Toyota Motor Corp workers in Washington.
A few hours earlier, Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) (TM.N), had seemed almost totally alone as he went through what must have been hardest day in his life at a congressional hearing on safety.
“At the hearing, I was not alone. My colleagues in North America and around the world, were there with me,” the chief of the world biggest carmaker told dealers and employees at the National Press Club as he broke into tears.
Toyoda, who has a MBA from an American university and once worked in California, used a translator to avoid any misunderstanding at the hearing, but often seemed sometimes lost in a cultural gap between the United States and Japan.
When Toyoda entered the hearing room at the Rayburn building wearing his customary navy tie, his face was pale and his expression stiff. He apologised in a speech he delivered in English, but did not make a Japanese-style bow.
During the three-hour-long grilling that ensued, some lawmakers grew irritated with Toyoda’s answers.
Pressed by time limits set by the committee, lawmakers sought short and simple answers from Toyoda. But he referred back to notes in Japanese, often describing general principles, making for exchanges that were sometimes at cross-purposes.
At one point, Rep. Dan Burton, a Republican from Indiana, had a simple question and a visual aid: an accelerator pedal made for Toyota in Japan and one made in the United States. He wondered why they were different.
Speaking through his translator, Toyoda stepped way back to the big picture.
“As the congressman already knows, a car consists of some 20,000 to 30,000 parts and I would like you to first of all know we work together with suppliers in designing those parts.”
Using a translator also sometimes worked against Toyoda as he struggled to keep up with questions fed back to him through an earpiece in Japanese.
Yoshi Inaba, head of Toyota’s North American operation, who has a good command of English, had to step in to cover for Toyoda on a number of occasions.
At the end, the intensely private Toyoda said he was not sure whether his appearance had achieved its aim.
“I believe Toyota has always worked for the benefit of the United States, and tried to convey that from the bottom of my heart,” he told the Toyota gathering at the press club. “I am not confident that the message was really broadly understood.”
Editing by Bill Tarrant