TOKYO - Could the Corolla be next?
Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it's looking into complaints of power steering problems with its popular compact car and is considering a recall as one option. That would be another blow to the world's largest automaker grappling with a spate of safety lapses ranging from sticking gas pedals to braking problems.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda also said he's not going to Washington to appear at congressional hearings next week, preferring to leave that to his U.S.-based executives while he focuses on beefing up quality controls - though he would consider attending if invited.
"We are sending the best people to the hearing, and I hope to back up the efforts from headquarters," Toyoda told journalists at his third news conference in two weeks.
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Eager to show that his company is taking consumer concerns seriously, Toyoda promised a backup safety system in all future models worldwide that will override the accelerator if the gas and brake pedals are pressed at the same time. Acceleration problems are behind the bulk of the 8.5 million vehicles recalled by the automaker since November.
But Toyota's woes could spread.
The executive in charge of quality control, Shinichi Sasaki, said the company is examining fewer than 100 complaints about power steering in the Corolla, one of its best-selling models.
Sasaki said drivers may feel as though they were losing control over the steering, but it was unclear why. He mentioned problems with the braking system or tires as possible underlying causes of the steering problem. U.S. officials are also investigating the complaints.
He stressed that the company's internal investigation was still preliminary and no decision had been made, but that the company was prepared to supply fixes - including a recall as one possibility - if it find defects.
The company is putting customers first in a renewed effort to salvage its reputation and will do whatever is necessary, Sasaki said. Toyota sold nearly 1.3 million Corolla cars worldwide last year.
Analysts had mixed views about Toyoda's reluctance to show up at Congress - some critical but others saying it was OK. Toyota's top North American chief, Yoshi Inaba, likely will face a grilling next week from U.S. lawmakers over safety lapses. Inaba has little involvement in design and engineering issues handled by its headquarters in Japan.