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Toyota chief exec blasted by lawmakers despite apology

WASHINGTON - Toyota chief executive Akio Toyoda apologized personally and repeatedly Wednesday to the United States and millions of American Toyota owners for safety lapses that have led to deaths and widespread recalls. Unimpressed lawmakers blistered the world's largest automaker with accusations of greed and insensitivity.

"I'm deeply sorry for any accident that Toyota drivers have experienced," the grandson of the founder of the Japanese auto giant told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He suggested his company's "priorities became confused" in a quest for growth over the past decade at the expense of safety concerns.

After an exchange of pleasantries that included praise for his willingness to step into a lion's den, Toyoda and a top deputy drew heavy fire from Democrats and Republicans for Toyota's slowness in dealing with safety defects that led to deaths and the recall of more than 8.5 million vehicles worldwide.

Lawmakers read to him accounts of customers experiencing unintended acceleration in their Toyotas and being blamed or ignored by the company.

"I hope that moving forward you never again use the excuse that it was driver error," Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) told Toyoda.

"I will make sure that we will never, ever blame the customers going forward," he responded through a translator.

Toyoda told the panel he was "absolutely confident" there was no problem with the electronics and repeated the company's stance that sudden accelerations were caused by either a sticking gas pedal or a misplaced floor mat. Some outside experts have suggested electronics may be at the root of the problems.

Toyota said Wednesday that it will offer free at-home pickup of recalled vehicles, pay for transportation costs and provide free rentals. The deal was initially announced as part of an agreement between Toyota and New York, which accounts for more than 500,000 recalled vehicles.

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