The grilling that US lawmakers had indicated they would give top Toyota executives, starting with the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce hearing yesterday, played out in public last night – on the primetime news broadcasts.

Two samples:

Representative Henry Waxman (a Democrat from California) to Toyota Motor Sales USA president and chief operating officer Jim Lentz: “Do you believe that the recall on the carpet changes and the recall on the sticky pedal will solve the problem of sudden acceleration?”

Lentz: “Not totally.”

In answer to a question from the panel, Lentz was unable to say when Toyota first heard of incidents of sudden acceleration in vehicles sold in the US.

After Lentz detailed TMS plans to fit some models with a brake override system, Rep Bart Stupak, a Michigan Democrat, chimed in: “What do you say to these owners that are not going to have this safety feature added… they’re just going to continue to drive down the road and hope they don’t have a sudden unintended acceleration?”

Lentz: “The possibility of that happening is very slim.”

And so it went.

Today, it’s Toyota Motor Corporation and family scion Akio Toyoda’s turn on the grill, before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, beginning at 11:00EST (16:00GMT).

You can bet his briefing team have been working around the clock these past few days since Toyoda’s U-turn and decision that, yes, he would go to Washington.

Turning up the heat at home, Japan’s transport regulator said earlier on Wednesday it would eye 38 reports of unintended acceleration with Toyota cars over three years, the first official probe in the automaker’s domestic market which has seen recall scandals involving other automakers in recent memory.

“The number of complaints about Toyota cars is not out of proportion to its share of the overall number of vehicles registered,” Japanese transport minister Seiji Maehara told the Reuters news agency.

“But given the ongoing issue, we would like to investigate Toyota cars.”

The probe will also look at other automakers for the same complaint.

Toyoda has apologised for the safety issues that have led to the recall of more than 8.5m vehicles, been blamed for at least five deaths and set off fierce criticism of both the world’s largest automaker and US regulators, even taking the unusual step of writing an article for The Wall Street Journal.

The congressional hearing and the carmaker’s deepening woes are also now front page news in Japan, where politicians are publicly expressing worries over the potential impact on economic growth, exports and the country’s overall image.

It has also dented the attractiveness of the stock market, according to a Reuters poll of retail investors.

“Toyota has, for the past few years, been expanding its business rapidly. Quite frankly, I fear the pace at which we have grown may have been too quick,” Toyoda said in a statement issued by TMS ahead of his testimony today.

Toyota’s priority had traditionally been safety, quality, and volume in that order.

“These priorities became confused, and we were not able to stop, think, and make improvements as much as we were able to before, and our basic stance to listen to customers’ voices to make better products has weakened somewhat.

“We pursued growth over the speed at which we were able to develop our people and our organisation, and we should sincerely be mindful of that. I regret that this has resulted in the safety issues described in the recalls we face today, and I am deeply sorry for any accidents that Toyota drivers have experienced.”

Rhonda Smith, driver of a Lexus in a 2006 incident where the car reached 100mph (160km/h), told the congressional hearing she felt Toyota and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) had dismissed her belief that the vehicle’s electronics were to blame.

“Shame on you, Toyota, for being so greedy. And shame on you, NHTSA, for not doing your job,” a tearful Smith told the panel.

However, the new owners of the ES350 luxury sedan have reported 27,000 miles trouble-free with the vehicle since buying it after Smith and her husband sold it with 3,000 miles recorded, an NHTSA spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal.

The WSJ said the federal safety agency had followed up with the new owners last week and a NHTSA spokeswoman said “they have had no problems with the Lexus since they bought it.”

“I think we outgrew our engineering resource,” Lentz told the hearing. “And the most important thing is that we lost sight of the customer.”

He agreed that 70% of complaints about unintended acceleration remained unexplained. “That is probably fair to say,” he said. “There are many factors that lead to it.”

Aizawa Securities analyst Toshiro Yoshinaga told Reuters slowing down car development and product launches to focus more on safety and quality would not necessarily dent Toyota’s competitiveness, as it would be in line with the industry trend.

“The replacement cycle for automobiles is getting longer globally. It is quite natural if the development cycle gets a little longer as well,” he said.

“It’s a matter of safety and quality, so it is important for [Toyota] to gain the understanding of the American people and work to rebuild trust,” Japanese government spokesman Hirofumi Hirano told a local news conference. “The fact that there was a fault in quality must be accepted gravely.”

UBS Securities auto analyst Tatsuo Yoshida told Reuters Toyota’s plan to localise decision-making on recalls — one of the key action points of its new strategy — would raise standards for the industry, forcing other makers to follow suit.

“As Toyota is best-positioned to adopt this system, the plan would eventually help enhance its relative competitiveness. On the other hand, it will create a high hurdle for smaller players, those without local bases.”

Meanwhile, US transportation secretary Ray LaHood said during Tuesday’s hearing he would meet with Akio Toyoda this week.

LaHood told the subcommittee he had been in touch with Toyoda, grandson of the Japanese auto maker’s founder.

LaHood also said his agency would continue to examine whether engine electronics played a role in incidents of sudden acceleration in Toyota vehicles. LaHood said regulators have yet to find evidence that that is the case.

“We’re going to get into the weeds on the electronics,” LaHood said.