CNN’s Larry King got the only sit-down with Toyota president Akio Toyoda following his testimony today on Capitol Hill.
King: Are we saying, Mr. Toyoda, unequivocally, that anyone watching this show, tomorrow can go out and buy any Toyota product with complete feelings of safety?” asked King.
Toyoda (through translator): Yes, that is right.
King: No question.
Toyoda (through translator): As I said earlier, the cars really behave according to the way it is used by the drivers or the customers, and also the roadways, environment. So I cannot say that it is safe forever going forward. So we are working together with the dealership and also trying to increase the dialogue with the customers, so that the customers can enjoy our vehicle in a much more safer manner, and they can really enjoy it for a longer period of time.
LARRY KING, HOST: We thank Mr. Toyoda for joining us.
By the way, at the hearing today, the interpretation had delays. We have simultaneous interpretation tonight.
Mr. Toyoda, by the way, you — you spoke English well in the opening statement.
Why do you prefer that we do it through an interpreter?
TOYODA (through translator): Because I was given the opportunity to speak at the hearing and I wanted to convey that we are working very hard regaining the customers’ trust and I wanted to be very accurate.
And that’s why I was a — I asked to use the interpreters.
KING: But — so you prefer, obviously, your native language.
Was it — was it a difficult day for you?
TOYODA (through translator): Yes, honestly. I think it was not an easy day. But I tried very hard and I am not confident to what degree our sincerity was conveyed. But we are working together with the dealers and other customers who support us, our suppliers and other colleagues and our employer — employees. And they all supported me, so I held on so far.
KING: Mr. Toyoda, would you say you were treated fairly by the congressmen?
TOYODA (through translator): This was my first opportunity to experience the hearing. I’m not sure if it was fair or not. But I would say I wonder to what extent people were able to understand what I was trying to say. And I would like to continue talking to people until they come to understand us.
KING: Do you think — what do you think your grandfather would have said about all this, Mr. Toyoda?
How disappointed do you think he would be?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, my grandfather probably wishes that he’s telling me to regain the trust of those customers who are driving our vehicles. You have to take the leadership, to work very hard so that we can win back our customers. I’m sure he is really cheering us.
KING: You apologized on behalf of Toyota. One congresswoman, Congressman Marcy Kaptur, didn’t think you showed enough remorse.
How — how sad — this is hard to put in words, maybe — how sad are you over this?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, all the vehicles bear my name and if the people’s trust vis-a-vis the vehicles lessens, then that is the same to myself. It is very difficult to express with words, but sometimes people tell me that I’m not explaining enough. It’s unfortunate, but I really would like to continue doing my very best to convey my feelings.
KING: Mr. Toyoda, you offered your condolences to the Sailor family specifically, who lost four members when their Toyota accelerated out of control.
What do you say directly to — to all — what can you say now to the families directly, and many of whom will be watching tonight, who have lost loved ones?
What — what do you say directly to them, as we show the Sailor family?
TOYODA (through translator): I would like to really express my most heartfelt sadness that those members of the family have had to lose their lives with a Toyota vehicle. And I would like to pray for them and extend my most heartfelt condolences.
KING: Well, the — the pain is obvious.
Who — when we look back, Mr. Toyoda, who was at fault?
Where did this start?
Did — was it the engineers?
Who made the mistake?
In retrospect, where is the blame?
TOYODA (through translator): We, at Toyota, are trying very hard to make a good product — good vehicles. When you think about what caused this, there may be many factors. When we look back upon what we have been doing, we always said that to make a vehicle means to make people.
This has been said for the past 70 years.
And in that regard, perhaps our business grew much faster, outpaced the development of our human resources. That’s one factor.
And another factor is that Toyota is a manufacturing company, but sometimes people said we are manufacturing money. And we must say there may have been a factor or that element within our organization.
Since I became a president last year in July, I have been sending the messages to all our employees to make better vehicles so that our customers would be very happy to ride our vehicles.
And we would like to maintain this. We really want to go back to this very basics.
KING: Toyota has long been a symbol of Japan’s manufacturing might.
What is the reaction over there?
Don’t go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?
If so, answer in the affirmative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We’re back with Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of Toyota Motor Company.
You discussed taking responsibility.
What do you do, Mr. Toyoda, with that responsibility?
More than eight million vehicles have been recalled worldwide.
What — what do you do for your customers now?
TOYODA (through translator): First of all, to our customers, I would like to say that Toyota vehicles are safe. Now, for example, customers are perhaps most concerned about unintended acceleration and they might be concerned about our electronic throttle control system may have a problem. But I am here to explain to the American people that our engineers tried to reproduce those problems — alleged problems — and they’ve been working very hard. And as far as their effort goes, we were not able to recreate those malfunctioning.
So at this point in time, I would say that our vehicles are safe.
However, depending upon how the vehicles are used, on what kind of a roadway it’s driven and how long it’s been used, they may present different behavior phenomenon. So going forward, we would like to really sincerely listen to the voices of the customers. We want to pay more attention to the voices of the customers. And I’m really steering the company so that we can do that going forward.
And if we are to encounter such a problem in the future, we should be able to respond to them much more quickly. And I would like to commit to that. And I believe that is my responsibility to implement that right now at Toyota, I’m the only person who is to do that.
KING: The buck stops with you.
Are you saying that, in some cases, you would put warnings on the cars as to in what conditions or where to drive them?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, I believe that the vehicles are made by the roadways in each locale. The conditions of the roadways are changing and we have to really pay attention to that constantly. So it is not that I am to say here that, yes, we will put the warning sign here and there; rather, we really have to become much more attentive in listening to the voices from the customers. And we want to provide something more convenient, easier to use, much better and higher technical capability and we would like to strive for that.
KING: Have you come up, Mr. Toyoda, with a solution to the acceleration problem?
Do we definitively know why those cars accelerated?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, you’re speaking as if there are four sort of categories of the cars. As I said earlier, the electronic throttle control failure is one and the other one is the way in which the car is driven and structure of the vehicle, for example, the relation or the location of the axle pedal — the axle and the brake pedal or there may have been the problems with the parts and components.
So I would say roughly those four categories.
The ETC, electronics throttle control, as far as our investigation goes, they did not present any problems. However, unfortunately, in reality, there are accidents in the world and so we would like to work together with various people and continue to pursue what could possibly cause these problems.
KING: Will the…
TOYODA (through translator): And other three categories…
KING: I’m sorry. Go ahead.
TOYODA (through translator): — we are installing the brake override system so in the very unlikely event, we should be able to handle that issue.
KING: You are not blaming the driver, though, are you?
TOYODA (through translator): No, not at all.
KING: Will Toyota overcome this crisis, regain its reputation?
We’ll ask that right after the break.
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TOYODA (through translator): I am deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced. In the past few months, our customers have started to feel uncertain about the safety of Toyota’s vehicles, and I take full responsibility for that.
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KING: We’re back with Akio Toyoda, the president and CEO of the Toyota Motor Company.
Are we saying, Mr. Toyoda, unequivocally, that anyone watching this show tomorrow can go out and buy any Toyota product with complete feelings of safety?
TOYODA (through translator): Yes, that is right.
KING: No question.
TOYODA (through translator): As I said earlier, the cars really behave according to the way it is used by the drivers or the customers, and also the roadways, environment. So I cannot say that it is safe forever going forward. So we are working together with the dealership and also trying to increase the dialogue with the customers, so that the customers cn enjoy our vehicle in a much more safer manner, and they can really enjoy it for a longer period of time.
KING: We have a question from our FaceBook page. The question is how do we know if the other cars not on the recall list are safe?
TOYODA (through translator): I’m not quite sure what that question mean.
KING: I guess it means if a car wasn’t recalled, does that mean absolutely it’s a safe car?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, I said earlier, we will be adding the brake override systems to the newly produced vehicle, but also, we will be putting it into the existing vehicle, as well. And I’m not an engineer myself, but I have already given instructions to our engineers that to what degree we need to retrofit this brake override system to the existing vehicle so that the customer can feel safe and use them in a comfortable way, so we would be providing this brake override system, and so that our customers can feel very certain and confident in riding their vehicles safely.
KING: How much blame do you put on your engineers?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, I wouldn’t really blame the engineers. What happened this time, it is I, the chief executive officer, the one on the very top, should be responsible for this. I would like to really listen to the customers’ voices, and together with the dealership, distributor, suppliers, we need to work together, and we would like to work together and to strive for regaining the trust once again from our customers.
KING: In our remaining moments with Mr. Toyoda, we’ll ask where the company goes from here, can it rebound, what are the thoughts back in Japan? Don’t go away.
KING: Back with our remaining moments with Akio Toyoda.
Will Toyota, Mr. Toyoda, will Toyota company pay for the victims’
funerals and hospital costs and the like?
TOYODA (through translator): That relates to some of the legal matters going forward. We would like to do our utmost efforts.
KING: Well, we’re seeing that obvious — anyway, your critics back home say you didn’t act quickly enough to deal with this problem. You should have been involved sooner. A lot of people in Japan are saying that. Are they right? Should, in retrospect, should you have acted sooner?
TOYODA (through translator): Yes. Looking back at this point in time, I feel that we should have acted much more promptly. When our company has grown so rapidly globally since I became the president, I have assigned the executive vice president to really look at each region so that they can be much closer to each locale so that they can respond to various needs on the part of the customers of the each region. And at this time, this problem was so huge, and I really reflect upon the fact that I should have stepped in myself much sooner, and that may have caused some more concern, or some people may have felt uncomfort or unhappy. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize for that.
KING: Mr. Toyoda, frankly, can the Toyota company come back? Can it be what it once was after this?
TOYODA (through translator): Yes. Right now, all our employees are in one. We are now using the safety customer number one. That’s our motto. And try to make our company once again strong and really good.
Our biggest purpose is to create good product so that the customers would enjoy using them and be happy with them. Unfortunately, we have to talk about this quality issue with customers and try to remove their concern this time, but I hope in the future we would be able to carry out many dialogues together with the customers so that we can tell them how to use our vehicles in such a fun way and they can enjoy them in very safely manner. To that end, we would be working very, very hard, so I would like to ask your continued support.
KING: All right, a couple of other things. Do you see any Japan bashing in this?
TOYODA (through translator): Japan bashing? No. Well, at least through this quality problems, we learned a lot. This was a great opportunity for us to stop and look back upon ourselves. I take it a great opportunity that, you know, this was a great learning experiences for us. So leveraging on these experiences, I hope that we can really come back, make a comeback, and we never thought this was a Japan bashing.
KING: All right, two other things. You’re famous for being publicity shy. Is this difficult for you? Was it hard to appear on this program tonight?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, Larry, I feel really honored that I was able to appear on your program as the number one person of my company. I thought the vehicles, the cars is the main character, so I wanted to stay on the side state (ph), but perhaps I should change my idea going forward and I need to talk to customers more straightforwardly.
KING: Thank you. One other thing. From our Twitter at Kings Things, what kind of car do you drive?
TOYODA (through translator): Well, I ride many different cars.
Let’s say I would drive 200 different vehicles in a year, so it’s rather difficult to say which car or what car I ride. I love cars.
KING: Thank you very much, Mr. Toyoda. I hope everything turns around. Thank you very much for being with us.
TOYODA (through translator): Thank you.
KING: Akio Toyoda, president and CEO, Toyota Motor Company.