Toyota undecided if leader will appear before Congress

TOKYO -- Toyota has still not decided whether its president will appear before the U.S. Congress, the automaker said Monday, but it promised to again look into possible electronic problems with its vehicles.

Toyota Motor Corp. has been criticized as being slow in responding to the unfolding recall crisis, which has ballooned over the past four months to 8.5 million vehicles globally with problems in gas pedals, floor mats and braking.

Calls have been growing for Toyota President Akio Toyoda to answer questions from U.S. lawmakers. Toyoda told reporters last week that he planned to go to the U.S., mainly to talk to American workers and dealers.

Toyota said details for his trip were still being worked out, and it was unclear when a decision could come.

In Washington, Republican Representative Darrell Issa has said Toyoda should testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Feb. 24. The hearing was scheduled for Feb. 10, but postponed because of a snowstorm.

In a letter to the committee last week, Toyota's attorney Theodore Hester said the company carried out "exhaustive and robust" tests, and does not think there are any electronics problems with its vehicles, but promised to look into it again.

"In the spirit of the recent commitment made by Mr. Toyoda that our company will review all safety issues and potential safety issues with renewed vigor, we will be re-examining these complaints," it said of the sudden acceleration complaints.

In Japan, where brand loyalty to Toyota remains relatively strong, the world's biggest automaker has been trying to send a message of remorse to assuage consumers as well.

On Monday, it rolled out a new Japan compact model called Passo without the usual fanfare for Japanese automakers, such as an unveiling ceremony with entertainment and a news conference by executives.

Toyota suddenly canceled the planned event last week, acknowledging celebration was inappropriate amid the recalls.

Toyota in Tokyo said it had not yet received a notice from U.S. federal authorities about the growing fears the series of recalls may next expand to the Corolla.

"We have yet to be contacted by the NHTSA regarding what has been reported in the press about a power-steering issue in the Corolla," said Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco. "Should we be contacted about any investigation by NHTSA related to any of our products, we will cooperate fully.

NHTSA has said it is looking into complaints from drivers about difficulty with the steering in 2009 and 2010 Corollas, which say they can wander while driving on highways.

Federal officials routinely look into such complaints, and there is no reason to think a Corolla recall may be imminent. But Toyota's safety woes are drawing intense scrutiny these days.

In addition to the Feb. 24 hearing, the House Energy and Commerce Committee has scheduled a Feb. 25 hearing with Toyota Motor North America chief executive Yoshi Inaba, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Administrator David Strickland.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has scheduled a March 2 hearing.