With Toyota under fire in the U.S. Congress, the world number one automaker's top U.S. executive was to apologize on Feb. 23 for the company's handling of safety defects tied to a vast global vehicle recall.

"Put simply, it has taken us too long to come to grips with a rare but serious set of safety issues, despite all of our good faith efforts," James Lentz said in remarks prepared for delivery to a key U.S. House panel.

The Toyota Motor Sales USA president said the company erred in how it handled two causes of sudden acceleration behind the recall of millions of vehicles worldwide and blamed for about 30 U.S. deaths.

"We acknowledge these mistakes, we apologize for them and we have learned from them," said Lentz, who was likely to face a grilling before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Lentz said Toyota failed to take into account "the way customers used our vehicles" as it looked at accelerators pedal entrapment, while it "failed to promptly analyze and respond" to technical data on sticking pedals.

"We now understand that we must think differently when investigating complaints and communicate faster, better and more effectively with our customers and our regulators," he said in the prepared testimony.

Lentz stuck to Toyota's position that the troubles cannot be tied to defects in the automaker's electronic throttle systems.

"We have done extensive testing of this system and have never found a malfunction that caused unintended acceleration," said the executive.

"We have rigorously tested our solutions and are confident that with these repairs, Toyota vehicles will be among the safest on the road today," Lentz said one day before Toyota chief Akio Toyoda testifies to another House panel.

The congressional hearings comes as the auto giant answers a request for documents from a U.S. federal grand jury investigating whether there is sufficient evidence for criminal charges related to problems with Toyota's brakes and accelerators.

Toyota, which also is being investigated by U.S. securities regulators, faces a host of civil lawsuits linking that could cost it billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, internal documents subpoenaed by a congressional panel showed that Toyota executives boasted internally last year that the company had cut the cost of product recalls by $100 million through lobbying in Washington.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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