Toyota US sales plunge
February sales drop nearly nine per cent in wake of recalls and congressional probe.
Last Modified: 03 Mar 2010 02:12 GMT
Toyota apologised to European consumers as it unveiled new models at the Geneva car show [EPA]

Japanese carmaker Toyota's sales in the US have dropped nearly nine per cent in the wake of its recent spate of safety recalls.

February's 8.7 per cent drop was led by a nearly 20 per cent plunge for its best-selling Camry sedan, according to figures released on Tuesday.

Toyota's loss appeared to be its competitors' gain, as Ford leapt to the industry's top spot for the first time since 1998, with sales rising 43 per cent. Nissan also surged, gaining 29 per cent while Honda chalked up a 12 per cent increase.

Toyota's declining sales come as a US congressional panel's hearing into its safety lapses continued on Tuesday, with a rebuke that the company had let profit considerations trump safety issues.

US probe

John Rockefeller, the chairman of the senate commerce committee, said US regulators had also failed to move aggressively in their investigation of cases of unintended acceleration.

In video

Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull reports on Toyota's efforts to win back customers

He disclosed documents showing that Toyota's senior US executive had warned back in 2006 that the quality of the company's vehicles was slipping, and warned of growing problems with US regulators.

"A year and-a-half later, Chris Tinto, Toyota's top safety official in Washington, tried to warn his superiors in Japan that quality problems were growing and, in his words, 'we have a less defensible product that's not typical of the Toyota that I know'," Rockefeller said.

Among the issues that have emerged from Toyota's quality issues is that the carmaker's regional entities did not communicate enough with each other to allow earlier identification of issues.

At the hearing Toyota executives said the company would provide US safety regulators electronic data recorders to enable them to read the "black boxes" in vehicles to determine the cause of accelerator problems.

Yoshimi Inaba, the president of Toyota in North America, said the company would be delivering three of the devices on Wednesday, and hoped to make the data more accessible to other systems by the middle of 2011.

He said Toyota would dispatch its engineers to the US to train technicians on the use of the devices.

Europe apology

Over in Europe, Andrea Formica, Toyota Europe's vice-president, apologised to European consumers for the global recall of 8.5 million vehicles worldwide since October for sticky accelerator pedals, faulty floor mats and glitches in braking software that have stained its reputation for quality.

"All the vehicles currently being produced meet the highest safety and quality standards," Formica added as Toyota launched its new global hybrid Auris at the Geneva motor show on Tuesday.

Formica's apology follows similar acts of contrition in China and the US by Akio Toyoda, the company's president, in the past week.

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