Car recall system in Japan set to change

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Japan's transport ministry may review and improve its car recall system, reports said yesterday, as Toyota Motor Corp battles accusations it may have delayed acting on drivers' complaints.

The step reflects deepening concerns in Japan over Toyota's recalls of more than 8 million vehicles, most of them in overseas markets.

Transport Minister Seiji Maehara told Japanese lawmakers last Friday that he hopes to try to improve his agency's recall system to respond better to consumer interests, Kyodo News reported.

"We will consider reviewing the recall system to make it more familiar to users," Maehara told a lower house committee.

The agency may require auto makers to move more quickly to fix defects and may expand the types of problems subject to reporting requirements, according to the reports, which also included one in the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. The reports cited unnamed ministry officials.

Calls to the ministry rang unanswered yesterday.

Toyota's president, Akio Toyoda, is to appear on Wednesday before the United States House of Representatives Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Its chairman, Edolphus Towns, a Democrat from New York, virtually compelled Toyoda to attend last week after issuing a formal invitation for him to testify.

Toyota has not given any details of Toyoda's travel plans, though Japanese newspapers Yomiuri Shimbun and Mainichi Shimbun reported he left Japan over the weekend.

Maehara and other Japanese officials have applauded Toyoda's decision to attend the hearing and voiced their support, saying he should use the opportunity to reassure customers angered by recalls over sticking gas pedals, accelerators jamming in floor mats and momentarily unresponsive brakes.

US safety regulators are also investigating complaints about power steering in the Corolla, Toyota's top-selling model worldwide, with 1.3 million sold last year. The estimated 500,000 Corollas in question in the US market are not made or sold in Japan.

As Toyota wallows in its recall mess, there has been relatively little talk about how and why its famously impeccable quality control regime failed - and why mainly in overseas markets.

But a review by the transport ministry could focus on such issues inside Japan, where the company has recalled about 223,000 Prius hybrid cars for braking problems.

The number of complaints over quality and safety issues in the US has dwarfed those in Japan, largely because the millions of Toyota vehicles subject to recalls were made with parts not used in models made and sold in Japan.

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