Toyota Recall No. 5 In All-Time List Automaker Toyota has recalled more than 5 million vehicles because of problems with gas pedals. Ken Bensinger of The Los Angeles Times says the Toyota recalls are No. 5 on the all-time list. Ford's ongoing recall of vehicles because of problems with cruise control is No. 1.

Toyota Recall No. 5 In All-Time List

Toyota Recall No. 5 In All-Time List

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Automaker Toyota has recalled more than 5 million vehicles because of problems with gas pedals. Ken Bensinger of The Los Angeles Times says the Toyota recalls are No. 5 on the all-time list. Ford's ongoing recall of vehicles because of problems with cruise control is No. 1.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Just how big is the Toyota recall? Is the measure of the carmaker's problem the degree of danger its created or is it the company's less then forthright response to complaints when they first surfaced. Well, joining us to address those questions now is Ken Bensinger of The Los Angeles Times, who by the way, did much of the reporting on the problem accelerator in some Toyota models. Welcome to the program, Ken Bensinger.

Mr. KEN BENSINGER (The Los Angeles Times): Thank you for having me.

SIEGEL: And first, in the annals of automobile recalls, how big is the Toyota recall?

Mr. BENSINGER: Its big, but it is not the biggest. Looks like its about the fifth biggest recall if we're taking a look at the first Toyota recall, meaning the floor mat recall, which is standing at nearly 5.4 million vehicles. That would make it the fifth largest recall in U.S. history. So its up there, but its not number one, that belongs to Ford.

SIEGEL: Ford, which recall was that?

Mr. BENSINGER: Thats actually an ongoing recall thats reached about 14.1 million vehicles and has to do with a cruise control switch that can cause an engine fire. And that keeps growing. They actually added a couple of million to that last year.

SIEGEL: As long as were at it, why dont you give us two and three and four?

Mr. BENSINGER: Number two also belongs to the blue oval as Ford is called. Its another Ford one and that was in the 90s for some ignition systems that also caused fires. Fires seemed to be a recurring problem for Ford. Number three was all the way back to 1971 and that had to do with failing engine mounts, which among other things could cause unexpected acceleration of all things. And that was the General Motors problem. And number four belonged to General Motors as well and that was suspension bolt that could fall loose, which led to steering problems.

SIEGEL: And those are all, as you say, bigger than the Toyota recall of - at least of last year.

Mr. BENSINGER: Thats right. They're bigger than the floor mat recall. Toyota, of course, has a separate recall, which is the sticky pedal recall and some people are adding those together. But Toyota would be quick to point out those are two separate recall issues. But the grand total of those two added together in the U.S. is about 7.6, 7.7 million vehicles.

SIEGEL: I have to put my cards on the table here as the owner of both a Toyota and a Volkswagen, for the VW Im not at all surprised anymore to get a notification of some recall for something. How common are recalls generally?

Mr. BENSINGER: Recalls are not uncommon. So its important to note that not all recalls are alike. But to put things in context last year, there were 15.2 million vehicles recalled in the whole U.S. and that was a big year for recalls. In 2008, there were 8.6 million vehicles recalled. So last year was a big one. Toyota played a big role to that, it was number one in recalls last year with about 4.9 million vehicles recalled. And that was the first time ever that Toyota had been number one in that list. But its also important to remember that recalls run the gambit from serious problems like the ones that Toyota is looking at now to minor things like radios that dont work the way theyre supposed to work.

SIEGEL: Does the way in which Toyota responded to complaints - the complaints, which ultimately led to the recall - does that stand out as egregious or is it typical of the way that automakers have had recalls?

Mr. BENSINGER: Well, I would hasten to add that no automaker likes to do a recall. Recalls are expensive in a direct cash outlay. And in a serious safety issue they're expensive in terms of their feeling that it hurts their image and can reduce sales. So, no automaker likes to do recalls. But the reporting that I and my colleague have done in the last few months indicates that Toyota seemed to go to great lengths to underplay the nature of the complaints it was receiving on these kind of issues, specifically the sudden acceleration issues.

They've clearly been hearing complaints about this for, you know, near a decade and found ways to suggest that they werent relevant, they didnt qualify or otherwise didnt indicate a problem. And I think now that that's coming to bite them, sort of, in the behind, these are specifically some of the issues that Congress says its going to look at in the next couple of weeks when they hold hearings from Toyota is how much Toyota knew and when it knew it and why it didnt do something about it before.

SIEGEL: Business reporter Ken Bensinger of The Los Angeles Times. Thanks a lot for talking with us.

Mr. BENSINGER: Its my pleasure. Thank you.

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Toyota's President Apologizes For Safety Woes

Toyota President Akio Toyoda (left) said, ''I sincerely apologize for causing concern to many of our customers over recalls for multiple models in multiple regions.'' Kyodo/AP hide caption

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Kyodo/AP

Toyota President Akio Toyoda (left) said, ''I sincerely apologize for causing concern to many of our customers over recalls for multiple models in multiple regions.''

Kyodo/AP

The president of Toyota Motor Corp. apologized Friday for safety problems that have led to massive worldwide recalls of its vehicles, as the company considers its options for addressing brake pedal problems in the 2010 edition of the top-selling Prius hybrid.

Akio Toyoda, grandson of the company's founder, promised to strengthen quality control, review consumer complaints and listen to outside experts in an effort to head off the deepening crisis.

"I'd like to apologize to the customers for the troubles and worry they've suffered in various areas and because of various recalls," Toyoda said at a news conference at the company headquarters in Nagoya, Japan. "Lots of customers may be wondering whether their car is OK, and, so, I organized this press conference to talk directly to them."

Beginning the news conference with a customary Japanese bow, Toyoda said his company's cars are safe, and he announced that he will lead a global quality control task force with independent experts acting as extra quality advisers.

He promised Toyota will quickly make repairs on the sticking accelerator pedals that let to a global recall of 4.6 million vehicles. "Believe me, Toyota cars are safe," he said.

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Industry experts said Toyoda, who has not previously commented on his company's mounting problems, had to take a stand to prevent the world's largest automaker's image from further damage.

Masaaki Sato, who has written books about rival Japanese automakers Toyota and Honda, criticized Toyoda for waiting so long to come forward — and for not acting in the U.S. without prodding by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

"He should have come out a week ago," Sato said. "After all the foot-dragging, he was pushed into a corner."

Toyota has recalled 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. because of a problem that causes accelerators to stick when the pedal is depressed.

U.S. dealerships started receiving the parts to fix the gas pedals this week, but they may soon be dealing with another problem.

Toyoda acknowledged that the company is reviewing more than 200 complaints by Japanese and U.S. drivers who say they've experienced a short delay before their brakes engage in the Prius hybrids — a problem that can be addressed by a change in the software programming. He said the company is cooperating fully with investigations by safety officials in the U.S. and Japan.

The company has fixed the programming glitch in Prius models that went on sale since last month but has done nothing yet for 270,000 Prius cars sold last year in Japan and the U.S. The remodeled third-generation Prius went on sale in May last year.

Toyota is also investigating possible brake problems with its luxury Lexus hybrid and the Sai compact sedan, both of which use the same brake system as the Prius. Toyota has not received any complaints about the Lexus HS250h and the probe is to ensure safety, it has said. The Sai is not sold outside Japan.

Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Maehara has urged Toyota to consider a recall for the Prius brake problem. The Transport Ministry oversees recalls and other auto regulation.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada said Toyota's problems may cause a crisis of confidence in consumers all over the world.

"Diplomatically, it's not an issue of a single company," Okada said, Kyodo News agency reported. "The issue is about trust in Japan's entire auto industry and Japanese products overall."

Indeed, Toyota shares have fallen as much as 23 percent since the automaker reported problems with gas pedals and earlier problem that involved gas pedals getting caught in floor mats.

In addition, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to investigate the safety issues plaguing Toyota. It's the first of two congressional hearings schedued for this month.

Written by NPR's Deborah Tedford; reported by Louisa Lim, Giles Snyder and Frank Langfitt with additional reporting from The Associated Press