Toyota's safety crisis deepened on Feb. 17 as the company said it was considering a recall of its Corolla, the world's best-selling car, because of possible steering problems.
Toyota also announced that it would fit all new models with a system to cut engine power when the driver steps on the accelerator and brake pedals at the same time, to prevent runaway car crashes blamed for dozens of deaths.
The Japanese maker, which is pulling millions of vehicles worldwide due to faulty accelerator and brake systems, said it was now looking into complaints of steering trouble with Corolla models launched since 2009.
If there is a defect that affects safety, "we will start recalls," Toyota executive vice president Shinichi Sasaki said. "We are in the process of investigating."
U.S. authorities said this month they were reviewing dozens of complaints about the Corolla -- the world's most popular car ever with total global sales of more than 30 million since the first version was launched in the 1960s. There have been reports of the vehicle unexpectedly veering off course at speeds above 64 kilometers per hour (about 40 miles per hour).
The 2009-2010 Corolla is among the models involved in Toyota's earlier recalls to fix problems with unintended acceleration.
In an effort to restore confidence in its brand, Toyota said its president Akio Toyoda would head a task force to improve quality control and enable the group to respond more quickly to reports of defects.
But the Toyota family scion, under fire for his handling of the safety problems, signaled that he would miss a grilling by U.S. lawmakers next week on the mass recalls, sending one of his top North America executives instead. "I am sure they are well equipped to respond well to the questions," he told a news conference, his third this month on the safety issues that have tarnished the company's once-glowing reputation.
However, Toyoda -- who is notoriously publicity shy and was criticized for being slow to appear in public after the mass recalls went global -- added that he would consider appearing before Congress if formally invited to do so.
U.S. authorities on Feb. 16 demanded that the world's largest carmaker hand over documents to prove it did not drag its feet in recalling the vehicles once it learnt about defects that can lead to unintended acceleration.
Investigators will probe how the manufacturer learned of the defects in the recalled Toyota and Lexus vehicles and when the problems were discovered, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said.
President Barack Obama's Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has vowed "to hold Toyota's feet to the fire" to make sure its cars are safe, but Toyoda denied his company had ever covered up safety defects. "We have not withheld information and we shall not do so in the future," said Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder.
The number of complaints alleging deaths related to unintended acceleration in Toyota vehicles has surged since the company announced on January 26 it was suspending sales and production of eight models in the United States.
According to the NHTSA, 34 deaths allegedly were caused by the problem, including 13 deaths caused by nine accidents between 2005 and 2010 that were reported since late January.