Toyota vows change as quality control panel meets

By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia autos correspondent

TOYOTA CITY, Japan, March 30 (BestGrowthStock) – Toyota Motor Corp
(7203.T: ), reeling from a recall crisis, launched a task force on
Tuesday aimed at regaining consumer trust and pledged to give
more clout to its regional operations to speed up decisions on
quality issues.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who was criticised for not
acting quickly enough when the automaker’s safety issues first
came to light earlier this year, convened a 50-member committee
on quality at the automaker’s headquarters.

The meeting marked the first time that Toyota’s newly named
regional quality officers had met and came at a crucial time as
the world’s largest automaker attempts to recapture lost sales
momentum in key markets including the United States.

Toyota said third-party experts in each region, including one
in North America headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary
Rodney Slater, would assess the steps it has taken to renew its
focus on quality and safety. The initial review results are due
to be released in June.

“We need a renewed commitment to placing customers first and
to reviewing all our work processes from the customers’
perspective,” Toyoda, who chairs the committee, said ahead of the
quality meeting.

“We are counting on the new framework to optimise our
decision-making both regionally and globally.”

Toyota has recalled some 8.5 million vehicles globally in
recent months. Those recalls take aim at accelerator pedals that
can become stuck with condensation, pedals that can be held down
by floormats and a braking glitch on its Prius and other hybrids.

The quality slippage has highlighted the pressure on Toyota’s
stretched work force as it scrambled to keep up with soaring
demand for its popular cars in the past decade.

To reverse the fall in quality, Toyota said it would
strengthen information-gathering capabilities at the local level
when suspected problems arise.

“Over the last few months, we really learned that we were not
close enough to the customers,” Toyoda said.

In the United States, for example, a team of specially
trained technicians will conduct on-site inspections as promptly
as possible when quality or safety issues arise, Toyota said.

Toyota will also expand the use in North America of event
data recorders, which can record data on vehicle condition and
driver operations, and work with authorities in other markets to
better analyse the causes of accidents, it said.

In other measures, Toyota will increase the number of
technology offices in North America to seven from one, establish
seven offices in Europe, six in China and more elsewhere.

Industry watchers said the new measures could help Toyota in
the long term if they help set it apart from its competitors, but
any near-term impact would be limited.

“The issue is how this would translate into quality, but
since that won’t happen immediately, it will not be a factor that
will affect Toyota’s share price,” said Mitsushige Akino, chief
fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management.

“This is positive from a longer-term perspective, but whether
it will be reflected in earnings in the near term or in the
current share price is another matter,” he added.

While a sales suspension of recalled models hammered Toyota’s
U.S. sales in February, demand is expected to soar on incentives
this month, leaving analysts uncertain as to how deeply the
recalls will actually damage Toyota’s business. [ID:nN29254435]

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said on Tuesday that
U.S. auto safety regulators would conduct a joint investigation
of Toyota’s electronic throttles to see if they are behind
reports of unintended acceleration. [ID:nN30122231]

Toyota has repeatedly said it is confident in the safeguards
built into its vehicle electronics and has seen no evidence that
they have failed on the road.

Toyota also faces the prospect of civil fines of up to $16.4
million if U.S. regulators determine that the automaker withheld
key information.

Cases of unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles have been
linked to 51 deaths in the United States over the last decade.

LaHood had charged Toyota with being “a little safety deaf”
before Toyoda promised reforms in testimony before a
congressional panel in February.

Stock Market Advice

(Additional reporting by Masayuki Kitano; Editing by Michael

Toyota vows change as quality control panel meets