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February 18, 2010

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Toyota woes turn to the steering

TOYOTA is looking into possible power steering problems with the hot-selling Corolla subcompact while its president said yesterday he won't be attending the US Congressional hearing on the car maker's safety lapses.

"I trust that our officials in the US will amply answer the questions," Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda told reporters.

"We are sending the best people to the hearing, and I hope to back up the efforts from headquarters."

He said Yoshi Inaba, who heads Toyota Motor Corp's US unit, was more familiar with the US situation and was the best man to deal with the hearing. Toyoda said he was still making plans to go to the US, but dates weren't set.

But in an alarming disclosure of a possible widening of Toyota's recall crisis, the Toyota executive in charge of quality controls, Shinichi Sasaki, said Toyota was taking seriously the complaints about power-steering in the Corolla, the world's best-selling car.

He said the company is investigating what might be wrong.

There have been fewer than 100 complaints, he said.

Toyota has recalled a total of 8.5 million vehicles globally during the past four months because of problems with sticking gas pedals, floor mats trapping accelerators and faulty brake programing.

The US House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing on February 24 on Toyota's gas pedal problems. The House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled one the next day.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has scheduled a March 2 hearing.

Sasaki said drivers may perceive a strange feeling as though they were losing control over the steering, but it was unclear whether the problem was with the shifts in braking systems or a problem with the tires.

Speaking at Toyota's Tokyo office, he said the company was considering a recall, and was ready to come up with any needed fixes as soon as possible. The number of possibly affected vehicles is unclear, he said.

Toyoda has promised a brake-override system in all future models worldwide that will add a safety measure against acceleration problems that are behind the recent massive recalls.


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