An independent advisory panel has been formed to help Toyota get a handle on its quality issues. With all of the current headlines relating to Toyota recalls and defects, the independent North American Quality Advisory Panel has been convened to study and give the automaker advice on quality and safety issues affecting its North American operations. Besides working closely with the North American leadership team, the panel has been promised direct access to the head honcho, Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda. Heading the group will be former U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Rodney E. Slater, who worked under President Bill Clinton to pass safety legislation for the automotive and aviation industries.

Among the many things this group of experts will be looking at will be the electronic throttle control system (ECTS-i) found throughout the Toyota and Lexus lineup. The group has pledged transparency and says they will make their findings public, although it seems they will be relying mainly on an analysis of Toyota's own investigations and those of another independent consulting group, Exponent, of Palo Alto, California. But Toyota has given the panel "an unlimited budget to pursue its mandate" and "will be able to commission any additional outside reviews it deems necessary," according to the press release you'll find after the jump.

[Source: Toyota Motor North America]
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Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater to Lead Independent North American Quality Advisory Panel for Toyota

March 2, 2010 - New York, NY – Toyota Motor North America, Inc. (TMA) announced today that former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater will lead an independent North American Quality Advisory Panel to advise the company's North American affiliates on quality and safety issues.

The panel will work closely with Toyota's North American leadership team, and will have direct access to Toyota Motor Corporation President Akio Toyoda.

"I am pleased that Secretary Slater has accepted our invitation to lead the distinguished group of safety and quality experts who will help Toyota to improve its quality controls in North America," said Yoshi Inaba, President and Chief Operating Officer of TMA. "We are committed to more transparency regarding our safety and quality controls, and the independent advisors will have our full cooperation and access to any information they believe they need."

This independent group of experts will also evaluate the electronic throttle control system (ECTS-i) installed in Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Its findings will be made public.

For its ETCS-i evaluation, the Quality Advisory Panel will have access to the results of extensive testing previously conducted by Toyota as well as a comprehensive, independent study being undertaken by Exponent, a leading engineering and scientific consulting firm located in Palo Alto, California. The panel will be able to commission any additional outside reviews it deems necessary and will have an unlimited budget to pursue its mandate.

"Over the years, Toyota engineers have extensively tested our electronic throttle control system and have never confirmed a single case where the ETCS-i was the cause of unintended acceleration. Nevertheless, given the recent speculation and concerns regarding unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles, we believe it is essential to provide our customers and the general public with additional confidence in the integrity of our electronic systems," said Mr. Inaba.

Secretary Slater will be closely involved in the selection and approval of members of the North America Quality Advisory Panel. The group is modeled after Toyota's Diversity Advisory Board, which brings outside perspectives and accountability from some of America's most recognized leaders in diversity and other public policy fields to help Toyota shape and maintain its widely acknowledged commitment to diversity.

Background on Secretary Slater
Rodney Earl Slater is currently a partner in the premier public policy law firm, Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, D.C., with a focus on promoting a more secure, environmentally sound and sustainable global transportation infrastructure. He is also a Vice Chairman and Senior Advisor at James Lee Witt Associates, a leading advisory firm on public safety, disaster mitigation, continuity of operations and emergency management.

Mr. Slater served in the cabinet of U.S. President William J. Clinton as Secretary of Transportation from February 1997 until January 2001. During his tenure, Mr. Slater championed and received bipartisan congressional support for the passage of several historic legislative initiatives, including the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), which guaranteed a record $200 billion in surface transportation investment through 2003, and the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment Reform Act for the 21st Century (AIR-21), which provides a record $46 billion to provide safety and security of the U.S. aviation system. As Secretary of Transportation, he also worked with Congress to secure passage of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation (or TREAD) Act.

About Toyota
Toyota (NYSE:TM) established operations in the United States in 1957 and currently operates 10 manufacturing plants. There are more than 1,500 Toyota, Lexus and Scion dealerships in the U.S. which sold more than 1.77 million vehicles in 2009. Toyota directly employs nearly 34,000 in the U.S. and its investment here is currently valued at more than $18 billion, including sales and manufacturing operations, research and development, financial services and design. Toyota's annual purchasing of parts, materials, goods and services from U.S. suppliers totals more than $20 billion.