NAGOYA, Japan (AP) — The president of Toyota Motor Corp. said he has spent the last year apologizing for the automaker's missteps and now hopes to lead the company past its recall crisis and restore confidence in its vehicles.
Akio Toyoda, speaking to U.S. reporters on Friday, also reiterated the company's commitment to fuel-efficient vehicles and said the automaker is testing an electric car prototype with technology from Tesla Motors Inc.
Toyoda said he has spent much of his year-long tenure at the helm of the world's largest automaker apologizing for its mistakes. He said he now hopes to win back the confidence of customers and move past the crisis that has battered its vaunted reputation for quality.
"I haven't heard much good news since I became president," Toyoda said, speaking through an interpreter. "For the past year, I was leading the company in apology."
Toyoda said the company remains committed to its core mission of developing environmentally friendly technology and remains committed to hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as well as hybrids and electric cars.
He said the company is now testing an electric car prototype with a battery from Tesla, the Palo Alto, Calif., startup that went public earlier this month. Toyota struck a partnership with Tesla in May, in which it sold Tesla a factory in California and invested $50 million in the electric car maker.
Toyoda, 54, who is grandson of the company's founder, took over the automaker in June 2009. Four months later, the company began recalls that escalated into a global crisis. The company has recalled more than 8.5 million vehicles worldwide to fix a range of problems, mostly unintended acceleration. The recalls have dented the company's market share, particularly in the U.S., where it made its name building safe, reliable vehicles.
The company has been criticized for moving too slowly to recall its vehicles. It has since taken steps to improve quality control, including spending about four more weeks on average engineering new vehicles and listening more carefully to customer feedback.
Toyoda was at first slow to make public appearances following the recalls but has since made himself more visible. He apologized to shareholders during the company's annual meeting last month and held a widely reported meeting with U.S. dealers in March in which he choked back tears.
Toyoda — whose name differs from the company name in part because the automaker's founders felt the spelling "Toyota" was more auspicious — is one of the youngest presidents in the automaker's history. Some commentators have called for Toyoda to step down due to the recall crisis. In May, the influential Toyota chronicler Masaaki Sato sent letters to major U.S. newspapers calling for a change of leadership, saying Toyoda mishandled the recalls.
Toyoda, speaking to a group of U.S. media at a museum in this central Japanese city Friday, said he hasn't considered resigning. Instead, he said he remains focused on rebuilding the company's reputation.
"Because everywhere the car bears my name on it, I have to lead the way in restoring confidence," he said.