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Mr. Toyoda Gets the Message

Monday, 10 May 2010 | 8:52 AM ET
Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary.
Getty Images
Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary.

Four months after calling Toyota "safety deaf," Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood says the Japanese automaker is getting the message.

"I think their attitude has changed," said Secretary LaHood after spending more than hour meeting with Toyota leaders including CEO Akio Toyoda.

"I came away with the idea Mr. Toyoda has listened to us," said LaHood.

Secretary LaHood is in Japan for a series of visits focused on the transportation industry in that country. While he's there, he will also visit Honda and Nissan. But it is the trip to Toyota that is getting the most attention. After all, it was LaHood who said last winter that Toyota needed to shape up, and shape up quickly.

Since then Toyota has formed a global quality control committee and has moved quicker to either recall vehicles or alert the public of safety issues. When asked about whether he noticed the change, Secretary LaHood said, "It looks like he's (Mr. Toyoda) taken our advice. We're glad he's done this, but we'll see how it all works out. We'll be paying close attention."

So will the rest of the U.S.

Toyota is still the subject of a Department of Transportation investigation. And with NASA engineers helping the DOT investigate the electronics in vehicles, the question of whether electronics are behind reports of unintended acceleration is still out there. That said, Toyota is intent on showing safety regulators that it is paying attention. While Secretary LaHood appreciates Toyota stepping up, he is not ready to pass judgment on the automaker.

"Until we pour through all the documents, we won't know what else we might find," said Secretary LaHood.

"He's (Akio Toyoda) made some changes, they didn't have in place,"

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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