Toyota Motor Corp's president apologised for recalls of millions of his company's cars worldwide in his first public appearance since the problems began last month at the world's largest carmaker, which once had a stellar reputation for quality.
Akio Toyoda, grandson of Toyota's founder, said at a hastily convened news conference late Friday that the company would establish a quality-control committee as part of its efforts to win back its customers' trust.
"We should admit mistakes where they were made," he said as the number of Toyota cars recalled worldwide because of uncontrollable acceleration rose to nearly eight million and in the week that the Japanese government ordered the carmaker to investigate reports of temporary brake failures in its latest version of its Prius hybrid car.
Toyoda said his company was still considering how to respond to the brake complaints in its best-selling car.
"I sincerely apologise for causing trouble and concern to many of our customers over recalls on multiple models in multiple regions," he said in Nagoya, Japan, at a press conference that was broadcast live in Japan.
"Believe me, Toyota's cars are safe," he said.
Toyoda's absence from the public eye since the recall crisis has made him an object of criticism and called into question Toyota management's ability to deal with the safety problems, which involve sticky brakes in such popular models as the Camry and Corolla, and failures in the 2010 Prius' anti-lock brake systems when driving over uneven surfaces.
In rare public criticism from the government of a Japanese company, Transport Minister Seiji Maehara on Friday charged Toyota with lacking "customer focus" over the Prius problems.
Later, Toyoda insisted that profits were of secondary importance to Toyota. "We want to first put top priority on removing customers' concern and recovering their trust," he said.
According to Toyota, software that was causing the problems in the latest model of the Prius, which was introduced into the market in May, had been changed starting in January.
If Toyota decides on a recall of the 2010 Prius, it would also be a global one because the carmaker has sold 310,000 of the cars in about 60 countries.
Japan's respected Nikkei financial newspaper said the problem could extend to other Toyota hybrids, such as the Lexus, because they use the same braking system as the Prius.
In the United States, where 100,000 of the 2010 Priuses were sold, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it had received 124 complaints from consumers and reported four crashes because brakes on the gas-electric hybrid temporarily failed.
Japan's Transport Ministry said that as of Friday, it had received 93 such complaints.
Despite the brake problems and recall, Toyota said Thursday that it expected to return to profitability in the current fiscal year, which ends March 31, after seeing a loss a year earlier. A predicted net profit of 80 billion yen ($879.89 million) came after a cost-cutting programme implemented in the global financial crisis.