WASHINGTON -- Toyota's recent management changes have not gone far enough to address a number of safety problems that have arisen over the past decade, an advisory panel appointed by the company said Monday.
Toyota's worldwide recalls of millions of vehicles since 2009 were attributable in part to overly centralized decision-making that still remains too Japan-based, the panel headed by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater said.
The company's "skepticism and defensiveness" toward consumer and other outside complaints also played a role, and Toyota should identify itself more closely with the goals of U.S. safety regulators and less with industry lobbyists, the panel's 60-page report said.
The automaker also lacked a top safety executive until April, and the seven-member panel that is being paid by Toyota said it still couldn't "identify a clear management chain of responsibility for safety."
Still, the panel said it is optimistic about Toyota's future. Federal investigations have revealed no electronic causes of unintended acceleration, the company's Global Vision 2020 makes safety one of its highest priorities, and management has been "eager to implement positive changes," the report said.
These changes suggest that Toyota wouldn't be as slow to respond today if safety problems were to surface, panel members said.
"Responses would be much more pro-active and faster than they have been in past cases," panel member Brian O'Neill, former Insurance Institute for Highway Safety president, said at a news conference.
Added Slater: "They're serious about wanting to reclaim their valued perch of premier leader in auto manufacturing. We'll just have to see what the leadership does" with our recommendations.
Toyota President Akio Toyoda, who has met twice with the panel since it was formed a year ago, said the company "has learned a great deal from listening to" it.
"Now the panel has given us further insights into how we can best achieve our vision of exceeding customer expectations with the safest and most responsible vehicles," he said in a statement.