Toyota's Troubles Roll On

It's been a tough week for Toyota and Toyota owners. The company's president apologized Friday for the recall of more than 2 million of its cars for faulty gas pedals, but there could be more problems. Toyota Prius owners in the U.S. and Japan are now waiting to hear if their hybrids will be recalled for brake problems. Guest host Audie Cornish speaks with New York Times business correspondent Micheline Maynard about Toyota's recall woes.

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AUDIE CORNISH, host:

And sticking with business news, it's been a tough week for Toyota and Toyota owners. The company's president apologized yesterday for the recall of more than two million of its cars for faulty gas pedals. But there could be more problems. Toyota Prius owners in the U.S. and Japan are now waiting to hear if their hybrids will be recalled for brake problems.

Here with some insight is Micheline Maynard. She is a senior business correspondent for the New York Times and author of the new book, "The Selling of the American Economy." She joins us from member station WUOM in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Welcome.

Ms. MICHELINE MAYNARD (Senior Business Correspondent, New York Times): Good morning.

CORNISH: So, let's start with the Prius. Do you think there's going to be a recall?

Ms. MAYNARD: You know, I think in another time Toyota might have been able to get away with just a safety notice to their customers, but I think now they're under so much scrutiny that there'll have to be a recall. Especially since they've already fixed the problem in Japan on cars that have been built since the middle of January - you can't really tell everybody who bought one since May that, well, you have this problem but we're not going to take care of it.

CORNISH: And Akio Toyoda, Toyota's new president and the grandson of the company's founder, he has apologized, and you talked to him for your book. What your take on him?

Ms. MAYNARD: You know, I think it's kind of ironic that you have a young CEO who speaks fluent English who is not being the face of this issue. And actually yesterday's press conference by accounts was a little bit of a disaster for Toyota. He actually - Mr. Toyoda actually tried to leave a little bit early and the Japanese reporters who are usually very respectful wouldn't let him go. And you don't need that kind of situation when your company is in a crisis.

CORNISH: I was going to ask that next. In Japan there has been criticism that that mea culpa has come too late.

Ms. MAYNARD: Well, it's actually the second round of apologies from Mr. Toyoda. You know, last year Toyota was in a big financial mess and also some other problems. And he came out and apologized then. And he's apologized again. So, unfortunately for him, in his first statements in the job he's known for apologizing.

CORNISH: Now, congressional hearings are scheduled next week here in the U.S. that will be looking into the recall. Now, what do you think we should expect to come from that?

Ms. MAYNARD: I think this is going to be the equivalent of the Ford Firestone hearings from about 2001, when the Ford executives, the Bridgestone executives, and Firestone were put on the spot. I mean, the pressure is building so much in Washington for a federal inquiry into this whole situation. And it doesn't help that Toyota is a Japanese company at a time when the American economy is trying to dig itself out. And the Detroit companies have gotten help from the federal government to do so.

CORNISH: Just when we thought that things couldn't get any worse for the auto industry, I mean what lessons can Toyota or any other auto company learn from this PR crisis?

Ms. MAYNARD: I think for years Toyota had tremendous goodwill simply because its cars were so good. But there's one thing that American buyers and buyers around the world won't forgive, and that's poor quality and anything that might put them in any danger. The whole pedal sticking issue is about people whose exhilarators just go and they can't stop the car. The whole issue with the Prius is that when you are on slippery roads like there are in Washington today, if you could drive at all, that the brakes don't grab the way that they're supposed to. And so people put their kids and their families and their grandparents in their cars and they want to be safe.

And so, they might cut a little bit of slack if you're from Japan, especially if you're building cars in the United States. But if you're not feeling safe in your car, nobody is going to cut you any slack at all.

CORNISH: New York Times senior business correspondent Micheline Maynard, thank you for joining us.

Ms. MAYNARD: Thank you. It's my pleasure.

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