Toyota President apologizes... again, calls situation a "crisis" *UPDATE

Fifteen days after Toyota announced a recall of 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. for sticking accelerator pedals, the company's president and grandson of its founder made a formal apology at an evening news conference in Japan on Friday night (early morning EST). Akio Toyoda has been largely silent during the last two weeks as his company struggles to contain the fallout from recalls affecting over nine million vehicles on multiple continents. The only other time he's spoken on record was during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last Friday when he told a Japanese interviewer, "I am deeply sorry." What's the reason for today's remarks? Toyoda told the audience of press, ""I came out here today because I would not want our customers to spend the weekend wondering whether their cars are safe."

The company president also announced that a committee would be created to look at Toyota's quality issues and address them going forward, something his predecessor, Katsuake Watanabe, also did back in 2006. Finally, in regards to braking issues with the 2010 Prius revealed yesterday, Toyoda said the company would soon announce how it plans to address them. Despite reports coming out of Japan to the contrary, there has been no official confirmation from Toyota that the new Prius will be recalled. Both the Japanese and U.S. governments have also opened investigations on the Prius and Toyota has pledged its cooperation.

We also learned yesterday of brake issues in the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid after Consumer Reports experienced a sudden loss of braking power in a Fusion Hybrid and contacted the automaker. The issue sounds similar to what some owners are experiencing in the 2010 Prius, though we've only heard of this one instance and Ford has already responded with a TSB to repair the issue with a software upgrade.

UPDATE: Statement by Toyota President Akio Toyoda added after the jump.

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[Source: The New York Times | Image: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP/Getty]

Statement by Toyota President Akio Toyoda

I, Akio Toyoda, deeply regret the inconvenience and concern caused to our customers and others by our recent recalls of multiple vehicle models across multiple regions.

Today, as so many people have expressed their sense of unease, I realized the necessity of asking you all here on short notice to share with you the following.

As Toyota revealed yesterday, new Prius now in showrooms include an improvement. For Prius in the hands of customers, I have instructed that consideration be made as soon as possible regarding the way to address such units. Once a decision is made we will inform the public.
As for the accelerator-pedal recall in the United States, Europe, China and other countries and regions, repair-work preparations are being made at our dealers. As soon as these preparations are complete, once again, we will inform you.

From Toyota's beginning, "contributing to society through the manufacture of automobiles" has been its key principle. To that end, since taking office in June last year, I have endeavored, based on our "customer first" and "genchi genbutsu" fundamentals, to thoroughly establish a product-focused management.

However, we, the ones supposed to relay to people the attractiveness of automobiles, have, instead, imparted on them worry. I regret this more than anything.

Under the banner, "Let's build better cars", we will go back to the basics of "customer first" and "genchi genbutsu", and once more, deeply consider what "customer first" really means. All our employees around the world, all of our dealers and all of our suppliers will unify in their utmost efforts to regain the trust of our customers as soon as possible.

As for specific actions, our Executive Vice President Shinichi Sasaki will soon brief you. Let me just say that I will take the lead toward improving quality around the world, by establishing a global quality special task force that will conduct regional quality improvement activities.

Concrete action plans
The Committee headed by the President will conduct various improvement initiatives.

The key initiatives are,

First, while verifying the causes that led to the recalls, Toyota will once again inspect every process -- quality in design, quality in production, quality in sales and quality in service.

Second, Toyota will enhance the customer information research offices to improve regional information collection and genchi-genbutsu activities.
Third, to develop quality-management professionals, Toyota will establish an "Automotive Center of Quality Excellence" in key regions.

Fourth, Toyota will seek confirmation and evaluation from outside experts -- in line with industry's best practices -- of its newly improved quality-control management, based on the above improvements.

In addition, Toyota will work to increase the frequency of communication between itself and regional authorities. To provide customers with satisfying products in each and every region, Toyota has long promoted the autonomy of its regional subsidiaries. From now on, we intend to further this autonomy, listen carefully to each and every customer and improve quality.

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