Toyota Motor president Akio Toyoda on Monday apologised to consumers in China, the world’s biggest car market, for the string of recalls affecting cars made by his family firm.
Toyoda bowed in apology before hundreds of journalists assembled at a Beijing hotel, just days after he said sorry to angry US lawmakers in Washington for faulty accelerator pedals blamed for more than 30 deaths.
Toyota’s global recall of over 8m vehicles included China, where Toyota joint ventures assemble models like the Camry, RAV-4, Yaris and Prius.
“I would like to express my sincere apologies to Chinese customers for the impact and worries caused (by this incident),” Toyoda told reporters, his hands trembling as he read a prepared statement in Japanese, news agency AFP reported.
“We have long seen China as an important market,” Toyoda said, adding he felt a personal tie to the country as the former chairman of Toyota’s Chinese operations.
Toyoda later told AFP he would not resign because he felt an obligation to reform the company, which he said may have become too focused on profits.
Toyota has recalled more than 75,000 RAV4 vehicles made in China over faulty accelerators.
“Toyota as an automaker thinks it is important to not cover up… and put consumer safety first,” said Toyoda, pledging to improve the quality of Toyota vehicles.
China’s product safety watchdog last week also warned drivers of imported Toyotas to have their cars – including the Tundra, Camry and Corolla models – checked for possible defects.
“We hope to win back consumers’ confidence in China by handling the recall as soon as possible,” Toyoda said.
The Japanese auto giant’s sales in China surged 53 percent year on year in January, but the recalls have already dampened demand, leading Toyota to start discount sales, the Nikkei business daily said.
Toyoda said he flew directly to China from the United States after appearing before a congressional committee in Washington and on CNN’s Larry King Live.
In China, he said the floor mats involved in vehicle recalls in the US and Canada were not used in models made there and added new brake override systems would be installed in all new models sold in the country.
His appearance was aimed at “stabilising or boosting consumer confidence in the Toyota brand”, Jerry Huang, a Shanghai-based analyst with research firm CSM Worldwide, told AFP. “It is also a gesture to show the importance Toyota attaches to the China market,” he added.
Huang added Toyota needed to be sure to keep a foothold in China, where it lags far behind General Motors and Volkswagen in sales.
“Given the possible short-term setback in the North American markets, the China market is even more important to the company.”
Toyota still hopes to sell more than 800,000 vehicles in China this year, Masahiro Kato, president of Toyota’s Chinese unit, told the press conference.