Nightly News   |  February 24, 2010

Toyota CEO feels the heat

While Congress members thanked Toyota's CEO for appearing voluntarily in Wednesday's committee hearing, the panel expressed skepticism over whether the carmaker can change its corporate "culture of secrecy." NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.

Share This:

This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> on." nightly news" begins now.

>>> good evening. this was the day the man with the toyota family name , the grandson of the founder of the car company, was to come before congress and face the heat and answer questions, and he did. what he did not do is end this crisis for the automaker. it rolls on without him and still affects millions of people, some of whom may never think the same way again about that once-great brand name . nbc's kelly o'donnell was on the hill for the hearing, starts off our coverage here tonight. kelly , good evening.

>> reporter: good evening, brian. this is so far from resolved. while the committee repeatedly thanked the ceo for come hearing voluntarily, promising to find and fix those problems, his answers were not satisfactory. one congresswoman even angry said that the toyota ceo did not show remorse for lives lost. a spectacle in two countries. japanese media call akio toyoda the crowns prince, star of his very prominent family. here the star witness. global leader of a car company under fire.

>> my name is on every car.

>> reporter: speaking in english only during this prepared statement.

>> i, myself, as well as toyota am not perfect.

>> reporter: mr. toyoda apologized for incidents of sudden, unintended acceleration linked to 34 deaths and a massive recall.

>> i am deeply sorry for any accident that toyota drivers have experienced.

>> reporter: what went wrong? mr. toyoda claims the company's rapid growth led to lapses in safety quality control. the questioning began in a polite tone.

>> welcome to the united states .

>> reporter: then a more hostile approach aimed at toyoda and the north american executive.

>> this discredits everyone. how would you respond, sir?

>> reporter: the committee seized on an internal memo made public this week which toyota bragged it saved $100 million on a recall three years ago by getting u.s. regulators to settle on a limited fix.

>> i must say to you it is so inconsistent with the guiding principle of toyota and my feelings. and therefore --

>> to me it's unbelievable.

>> yes. i feel the same.

>> reporter: the committee scolded toyota for not acting quickly to protect drivers. they admitted they knew about the problems happening in europe but did not alert its u.s. division for one year.

>> we did not hide it, but it was not properly shared.

>> reporter: today's hearing put on display differences in language and culture which some say led to confusion and poor oversight. earlier ray lahood was asked if toyota has a culture of secrecy.

>> have you had difficulty penetrating the toyota culture, which teaches that these are things that should not be aired in public? how are you penetrating that?

>> well, we had some issues.

>> reporter: lahood promised a full investigation of the acceleration issue.

>> we will get in the weeds on this. we will do everything we can to find out if electronics are a part of the problem.

>> reporter: and strongly denied suggestions that federal regulators are not tough enough.

>> do you believe there is too cozy of a relationship between ntsa and the industry?

>> no.

>> and the second part of that question --

>> no. absolutely not.

>> reporter: another question came up with a conflict of interest with the toyota brand so battered, members of the panel asked if they are being treated differently because u.s. taxpayers now own gm and chrysler. secretary lahood said absolutely not. brian?

>> kelly o'donnell in washington. thanks. one more word from the