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Japanese Dismiss Concerns Over Toyota Recalls


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Im Robert Siegel.

In Japan, the bow of apology by the head of a beleaguered company is a ritual act of contrition and shame. And so it was today, after the recall of more than seven million cars and two weeks of near silence, that the chief of Toyota Motors took his turn.

NPRs Louisa Lim was watching in Tokyo.

LOUISA LIM: This is a moment of crisis for Toyota. And if anyone should doubt that, those words came from its president, Akio Toyoda, the grandson of its founder. In his first press conference since the massive recalls, he made his apologies.

Mr. AKIO TOYODA (President, Toyota Motors): (Through translator) I apologize to the customers for the troubles and worry theyve suffered in various areas and because of various recalls. Lots of customers may be wondering whether their car is okay, and so I organized this press conference to talk directly to them.

LIM: He insisted that Toyota cars are safe and announced the formation of a global quality task force that he himself would head with independent experts acting as extra quality control. Toyota repeated his customers first mantra to the doubtful and sometimes aggressive press. But when it comes to the is-my-car-okay question, there were no clear answers about the future of the third generation Prius gas hybrids, Toyotas flagship vehicle.

Safety regulators in the U.S. and Japan are investigating braking problems with the Prius and other hybrids including the Lexus. Report say Toyota is considering a recall. But no recall was announced today. As for what is happening, Toyota executive Shinichi Sasaki had this to say.

Mr. SHINICHI SASAKI (Executive, Toyota): (Through translator) Were looking into the situation and inspecting, verifying to conclude which is the best way to fix the problem. We wont take long during this investigation. We havent reached a conclusion and as soon as we do well share it.

(Soundbite of hammering)

LIM: That vague advice doesnt worry Kogi Hirosawa(ph) even though he drives a Prius taxi. The Prius is Japans top selling car. And Toyota, whose watch word has been quality, is a source of national pride. Hirosawa, like many other Japanese, admits to being baffled by the idea that Toyota could've done anything wrong. And he says, through thick or thin, he's still a fan.

Mr. KOGI HIROSAWA: (Through translator) I have no worries at all. I really enjoy this car. The gas cost and efficiency are good and it's well designed. My personal opinion is that Toyota is still the number one automaker in the world.

LIM: Toyotas making headlines everywhere else. But the tears of a retiring sumo wrestler knocked it from todays front pages in Japan. So far the multiple vehicles havent been given much coverage. Analysts say Toyota is a major advertiser. So these problems may have been played down at home. And some believe these same problems are being played up overseas to the benefits of the American car industry.

Ryoichi Saito is an auto analyst at Mizuho Investor Securities. On the issue of the Prius, he says 200 complaints against the third generation Prius is normal, given the 300,000 cars on the road. He's questioning whether normal procedure was followed with the other recalls.

Mr. RYOICHI SAITO (Auto Analyst, Mizuho Investors Securities): (Through translator) What I can say is the reaction of the U.S. authorities was different from their normal behavior. Maybe they are tougher on Toyota. Some of the media are also reporting that.

LIM: Japan is still very much in denial that its national icon is in turmoil. So far many are standing behind the company that provides cars to their emperor and prime minister. But if the recalls affect models driven at home in Japan, Toyotas faithful fans may have their loyalty tested.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Tokyo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Louisa Lim
Beijing Correspondent Louisa Lim is currently attending the University of Michigan as a Knight-Wallace Fellow. She will return to her regular role in 2014.