Toyota president to testify before House panel

By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 19, 2010

Toyota President Akio Toyoda capitulated to escalating demands from U.S. lawmakers and said Thursday that he will accept an invitation to testify before a House panel next week, one day after he said he would not visit Congress.

"I have received Congressman Towns' invitation to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on February 24 and I accept," Toyoda said in a statement Thursday evening. "I look forward to speaking directly with Congress and the American people."

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the committee, and ranking Republican Darrell Issa (Calif.), had been turning up the heat on Toyoda to answer questions about the ongoing quality problems with his company's vehicles. Since last fall, nearly 8 million Toyotas have been recalled, mainly in three waves, to fix problems related to unintended acceleration and braking. Lesser recalls have focused on drive-shaft and steering problems.

"We are pleased Mr. Toyoda accepted the invitation to testify before the committee," Towns and Issa said in a statement. "We believe his testimony will be helpful in understanding the actions Toyota is taking to ensure the safety of American drivers."

Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, said Wednesday that his North America president, Yoshimi Inaba, would be a better choice to testify before Congress, and declined the committee's invitation. Toyoda had been planning to visit the United States next month to talk to dealers.

Also on Thursday, the committee issued a subpoena for documents held by Dimitrios Biller, a former top attorney for Toyota North America. Biller alleges that the company hid data from the government and the public that would have allowed liability cases to go forward against it.

The committee's subpoena demands "all documents relating to Toyota motor vehicle safety and Toyota's handling of alleged motor vehicle defects and related litigation" that are held by Biller.

Biller was prevented this month from releasing the documents. A federal arbitrator sided with Toyota, which sought to quash the documents. Now they are the subject of a congressional subpoena, which supersedes the injunction.

Witnesses scheduled to testify before the committee on Wednesday will probably be bumped to the next week, giving center stage to Toyoda, Inaba and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company