WASHINGTON, March 2 (Xinhua) -- Toyota Motor Corp. is facing questions from a U.S. Senate panel on Tuesday over the Japanese auto giant's massive recalls in the United States.
"We know something has gone terribly wrong," Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller said at the opening of the third congressional hearing on Toyota's problems in a week.
Latest official data show that Toyota drivers have reported 58 deaths since 2000 linked to cases of sudden unintended acceleration.
The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation is probing whether Toyota and federal safety regulators acted swiftly enough to deal with cases of sudden unintended acceleration of the Japanese automaker's cars and trucks.
Besides three Toyota executives, lawmakers were also to question U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) chief David Strickland amid charges that U.S. regulators reacted sluggishly to early warning signs.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda apologized before the House Oversight Committee last week and pledged to be more responsive to driver complaints and safety warnings from the government.
But the company still faces lingering doubts over the cause of the problems, which it has blamed on gas pedals that can get obstructed by floor mats or stick due to design flaws. Safety experts have said the electronic systems of Toyota vehicles could be to blame. Toyota insists there is no evidence of an electrical cause.
In the prepared testimony, Yoshimi Inaba, Toyota's top North America executive said Toyota would give its U.S. and Canadian divisions "more autonomy and decision-making power with regard to recall and other safety issues."
Toyota, one of the largest auto companies in the world, has been suffering reputation downgrading for its quality control related to massive recalls in recent months.
The three recalls in question involve various Toyota and Lexus vehicles. Two of the recalls are related to the entrapment of gas pedals by floor mats. The first recall was announced on Sept. 26, 2007 and was followed by a subsequent one on Oct. 6, 2009. The October recall was expanded on Jan. 29, 2010 to include additional vehicles. The third recall, involving sticking gas pedal, was announced on Jan. 21, 2010.