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Toyota boss 'deeply sorry' for fatal car safety lapses

Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda yesterday apologised to the US Congress -- and millions of Toyota owners -- for safety lapses that led to deaths and widespread vehicle recalls for accelerator and braking failures.

"I'm deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced," said the grandson of the founder of the world's largest carmaker.

Amid a phalanx of cameras, Mr Toyoda, dressed in a dark suit, walked into the committee room briskly.

Committee chairman Edolphus Towns welcomed Mr Toyoda and thanked him for volunteering to testify.

"We're very impressed with that. It shows your commitment to safety as well," Mr Towns said.

Mr Toyoda pledged that his company would change the way it handled consumer complaints, including seeking greater input from drivers and outside safety experts when considering recalls.

Toyota managers would also drive cars under investigation to experience potential problems first hand, he said.

He suggested his company's "priorities became confused" in its quest for growth during the past decade at the expense of safety concerns.

Mr Toyoda read from prepared remarks that had been released the day before. "My name is on every car. You have my personal commitment that Toyota will work vigorously and unceasingly to restore the trust of our customers," Mr Toyoda said.

He delivered his short remarks clearly in English. However, when the questioning session began, he switched to Japanese with the help of a translator.

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Asked by Mr Towns if Toyota had divulged all safety information it had to US officials, Mr Toyoda said: "We fully share the information we have with the authorities."

Appearing with him was Yoshimi Inaba, head of Toyota Motor North America.

"We are committed not only to fixing vehicles on the road and ensuring they are safe, but to making our new vehicles better and even more reliable through a re-doubled focus on putting our customers first," Mr Inaba said.

Moments before Mr Toyoda's arrival, dozens of photographers sat on the floor in front of the witness table, waiting for the Toyota chief.

About a dozen television cameramen were ushered in by an aide, their cameras almost colliding with each other as they rushed to get good spots.

A stony-faced Mr Toyoda entered the committee room from a side doorway, trailed by the female interpreter and Mr Inaba. He walked down two steps, past the desks of two congressmen and into the swarm of photographers.

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