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Toyota and NHTSA officials to be grilled on Capitol Hill

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It appears that Toyota’s CEO and President, Akio Toyoda, is headed for the hot seat on Capitol Hill, where he will meet with U.S. legislators who seek answers to what Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) called “the number of outstanding questions surrounding Toyota’s relationship with U.S. regulators.” No specific date has been set, but according to ABC News, Toyoda, who is also the grandson of his company’s founder, plans to visit the U.S. in the coming weeks.

Rep. Issa also asked House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform’s Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-NY) to invite Toyoda to a hearing on February 24. The hearing, part of a congressional probe into Toyota’s handling of complaints and other reports of sudden, unintended acceleration, was originally scheduled to take place today but was postponed because of the snowstorms pounding the mid-Atlantic states.

Toyoda apologized profusely to consumers after the crash that killed California Highway Patrol officer Mark Saylor and his family last August and has apologized several times since for his company’s slip in its trademark quality. He announced Tuesday that he is taking personal responsibility for Toyota’s recalls and its campaign to regain the trust of American consumers.

"Let me assure everyone that we will re-double our commitment to quality as a lifeline of our company with myself taking the lead," Toyoda said from the company’s headquarters in Japan, adding that he would be heading to the U.S. soon “to explain the conditions and the situation to those people.”

Toyota’s conciliatory tone follows a series of allegations that it ignored or brushed aside consumer complaints for more than a decade. One senior official from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told the New York Times that Toyota executives “were dragging things out” in response to his agency’s questions. “And we’d had it,” the official said.

The NHTSA’s sudden tough stance in turn follows recent allegations by safety experts and legislators that it could have done much more to protect American consumers from cars that accelerate out of control.

Since 1999, more than 2,000 incidents of sudden, unintended acceleration have been reported in Toyota vehicles. Of those cases, 815 separate crashes have occurred, resulting in 19 deaths and 341 injuries.

The Center for Auto Safety’s Clarence Ditlow, who will testify as a witness at the House oversight hearing, told the New York Times that the NHTSA isn’t serving the American people.

“Where were they before this?” he asked of the NHTSA. “The whole relationship is really too cozy. They view their constituency as the auto industry and not the consumer. It’s a classic case of a regulatory agency that over time becomes captured by the industry it regulates.”

You can visit the Beasley Allen web site for more information about unintended acceleration and a full list of the vehicles currently recalled by Toyota for this problem.

Sources: ABC News, New York Times