Toyota's top executive has delayed a visit to the United States until early March due to heavy snowfall in Washington, a news report said Thursday, amid a call by a lawmaker that he testify before Congress this month about the automaker's safety lapses.
Akio Toyoda, Toyota's president and also grandson of the company's founder, has apologized for a series of massive recalls of top-selling models over quality defects and safety concerns.
Toyoda said Tuesday he planned to visit the U.S. soon to meet Toyota workers and dealers there. He spoke shortly after the world's largest automaker announced it was recalling 437,000 Prius and other hybrids over brake problems.
That brought the total number of vehicles recalled by Toyota since November to 8.5 million. Other recalls were for floor mats that can entangle the gas pedal and gas pedals that can stick, causing sudden acceleration.
Toyota's handling of the recalls has led to a storm of criticism that has dented the automaker's reputation for quality.
Japan's Kyodo News agency said Thursday that Toyoda will visit Washington in early March and is likely to meet with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other government officials. The report, attributed to company sources, said the trip had been postponed from this week because of heavy snow in Washington and is likely to focus on Toyota's handling of recent safety issues.
Toyota officials could not immediately be reached Thursday for comment on the report. Businesses were closed in Japan for a national holiday.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee had planned to hold a hearing into Toyota's recalls on Wednesday, but that was postponed due to the inclement weather. It was rescheduled for Feb. 24.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee has plans for one on Feb. 25. Toyota Motor North America Chairman and chief executive Yoshimi Inaba is scheduled to appear at both those sessions along with LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator David Strickland.
The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has also scheduled a hearing March 2, though it has not announced who will attend.
The reported delay in Toyoda's trip came as Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, said Wednesday that Toyoda should meet with lawmakers and testify before the oversight committee.
"There certainly is widespread interest from Capitol Hill and the American people to hear directly from him," Issa said. He said he would ask Chairman Edolphus Towns, the Democrat who leads the committee, to invite Toyoda to participate in the hearing.
Issa said the delayed hearing would give the committee an opportunity to "provide a forum for both Mr. Toyoda and lawmakers to have an open exchange in front of the American people."
Toyoda has apologized several times for the recalls, most recently at a news conference Tuesday after the Prius announcement. Japanese media have criticized the company over its slowness and lack of clarity in explaining the series of embarrassing recalls. Japanese government officials have also criticized Toyota.