TOKYO — Toyota's president apologized Friday for the massive global recalls over sticking gas pedals as the automaker scrambles to repair a damaged reputation and sliding sales.
But Akio Toyoda, appointed to the top job at Toyota Motor Corp. last June, said the company is still deciding what steps to take to fix brake problems in the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid.
Speaking at a hastily announced news conference that lasted an hour, a stern-looking Toyoda promised to beef up quality control.
"We are facing a crisis," he said, publicly confronting the automaker's safety problems for the first time since a global recall affecting 4.5 million vehicles was announced Jan. 21.
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He bowed in customary Japanese-style greeting at the start of the televised news conference at Toyota's Nagoya headquarters but did not bow deeply when offering an apology as some executives, including his predecessor Katsuaki Watanabe, have done when under fire.
Toyoda, 53, said the company is setting up a special committee he would head himself.
It would review internal checks, go over consumer complaints and listen to outside experts to come up with a solution to the widening quality problems.
"I offer my apologies for the worries," he said. "Many customers are wondering whether their cars are OK."
Toyoda, grandson of the automaker's founder, has been criticized for not coming out sooner to answer questions about the flood of quality problems that have hit Toyota.
Masaaki Sato, an auto industry expert who has written books on Toyota and its Japanese rival Honda, said Friday's appearance was the company's last chance to keep the situation from worsening.
Sato also criticized Toyoda for having to be prodded into action in the U.S. by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who called the Toyota president for talks.
"The issue is a huge problem in the U.S., far more serious than you might think," Sato said.
There is also top level government concern in Japan about Toyota's quality fiasco.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada expressed concern about the impact of the gas pedal recalls on Japan-US economic ties.
"The issue is about trust in Japan's entire auto industry and Japanese products overall," Okada said, Kyodo News agency reported.
Toyoda said the company was moving quickly on the global recalls covering 4.5 million vehicles for sticking gas pedals, about half of them in the U.S.
Toyota would fully cooperate with the investigation by U.S. federal authorities into Prius problems, Toyoda said.
There have been nearly 200 complaints in Japan and the U.S. of drivers experiencing a short delay before the brakes kick in — a problem that can be fixed with a software programming change.
The automaker has fixed the programming glitch in Prius models that went on sale since last month, but has done nothing yet on 270,000 Prius cars sold last year in Japan and the U.S.
A less-than-perfect Prius threatens to be an even more serious blow for Toyota's image than the gas pedal recalls.
The hybrid is a symbol of Toyota's technological prowess and ambitions to lead the auto industry in green, low-pollution cars.
Toyota is also investigating possible brake problems with its luxury Lexus hybrid, which uses the same brake system as the Prius. Toyota has not received any complaints about the Lexus HS250h.