TOKYO — Could the Corolla be next?
Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it's looking into complaints of power steering problems with its popular compact car and is considering a recall. That would be another blow to the world's largest automaker, grappling with a spate of safety lapses ranging from sticking gas pedals to braking problems.
Meanwhile, a Transportation Department official said the department plans to open a formal investigation into the 2009-2010 Corolla's power steering. The preliminary investigation is expected to be opened today and involve an estimated 500,000 vehicles, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the department had not yet notified Toyota of the investigation.
Toyota sold nearly 300,000 Corollas in the United States last year and about 1.3 million worldwide.
Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, also said he's not going to Washington to appear at congressional hearings next week, preferring to leave that to his U.S.-based executives while he focuses on beefing up quality controls — though he would consider attending if invited.
"We are sending the best people to the hearing, and I hope to back up the efforts from headquarters," Toyoda told journalists at his third news conference in two weeks.
Eager to show that his company is taking consumer concerns seriously, Toyoda promised a backup safety system in all future models worldwide that will override the accelerator if the gas and brake pedals are pressed at the same time.
Toyoda also acknowledged his company had grown too quickly globally, and the measures in place in Japan to check on defect reports hadn't been enough to deal with "the scale" of America.
But he stressed again that he and his company have nothing to hide.
"We are not covering up anything, and we are not running away from anything," Toyoda said.
Toyota's executive in charge of quality control, Shinichi Sasaki, said the company is examining fewer than 100 complaints about power steering in the Corolla. He said drivers may feel as though they were losing control over the steering, but it was unclear why. He mentioned problems with the braking system or tires as possible underlying causes of the steering problem.
He stressed that the company's internal investigation was still preliminary and no decision had been made, but that the company was prepared to supply fixes — including a recall as one possibility — if it finds defects.