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Updated: March 1, 2010 20:32 IST

Toyota president apologizes to Chinese customers

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Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, gestures during a press conference in Beijing on Monday. Photo: AP.
Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda, gestures during a press conference in Beijing on Monday. Photo: AP.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda, apologised on Monday to the company’s customers in China, the fast—growing market that has become increasingly important to automakers as they struggle with weak global sales.

The number of Toyota vehicles recalled in China makes up only a small percentage of the 8.5 million pulled worldwide since October for sticky gas pedals, faulty floor mats and glitches in braking software.

But auto sales in China have become increasingly critical for automakers as sales lag in traditional markets. Last year, China overtook the United States as the biggest auto market, with a 48 percent jump in sales, and automakers are looking to it to offset weak global demand and drive future growth.

“The incident had caused an impact and worries to Chinese consumers,” Mr. Toyoda told news conference of the massive worldwide recalls of Toyotas.

“I hereby express my sincere apologies for these worries,” Mr. Toyoda said in his second foreign appearance following last week’s visit to Washington, where he was grilled by angry lawmakers.

Mr. Toyoda said China was important to his company, and reiterated earlier statements that with his family name on the product, he is personally responsible for safety.

China’s state—controlled media have made only muted comment on the recalls, in contrast to the blistering criticism Toyoda faced from American lawmakers.

The flood of recalls in the United States has shaken confidence in Toyota’s reputation for excellent quality. In China, the company announced a recall of 75,552 RAV4 sport—utility vehicles in late January due to the gas pedal problem.

Toyota’s February sales by its two local joint ventures with state—owned partners were up from a year earlier, according to Passenger Car Association estimates. Sales for its venture with Guangzhou Automobile Group climbed 50 percent to 17,500 units. Sales at its FAW Group venture jumped 106 percent to 40,400 units.

“So far, it’s hard to see any direct impact on Toyota’s sales,” said Rao Da, general secretary of the China Passenger Car Association, an industry group. “The crucial thing for them is brand reputation. If they don’t pay great attention to this, it will eventually hurt the customers’ trust.”

A spokesman for Toyota China, Niu Yu, said monthly sales figures would be released on Tuesday.

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